Saratoga Racetrack

Saratoga Springs, NY is home to one of the most popular horse racetracks in the country.

You don't have to be a serious racing fan to love the beauty and excitement of thoroughbred horse racing in Saratoga Springs NY. The thoroughbred track is considered by many not only to be the oldest racecourse in the country, but also the most beautiful. Whether you cheer a winning ticket or enjoy the quiet morning elegance of breakfast at the track, watching the most beautiful horses in America work out, the racetrack at Saratoga will offer something for everyone.

A crowd of 5,000 was on hand to view the first race ever held at Saratoga Race Course on August 3, 1863. Lizzie W. became the first thoroughbred to cross the finish line. The spectators were seated in covered stands. Underneath the stands were a clubroom and many other amenities for the visiting gambler. In 1864, the Travers Stakes was first run as a tribute to William Travers, the president of the racing association. This is now believed to be the nation's oldest stake race in continuous existence. It remains the highlight of the Saratoga Season today. The Travers Festival lasts a week and many special events are held, including the Travers Ball, which attracts many celebrities to the Saratoga Region each year. Another current day favorite, the steeplechase, was also introduced in this four-day meet.

In 1865, more improvements were made to the track. The grandstand was lengthened by 120 feet and the seats were cushioned to improve the comfort of the spectators. A new fieldstand was also added and the entire track was fenced in. The prosperity of the track continued into the 1870's.

In the 1880's, the track experienced a decline in attendance and participation as the track in Monmouth NJ attracted better horses and larger purses. Even after Monmouth was forced to close in 1893 because of anti-gambling legislations, Saratoga still was in a slump. After a very unfortunate change in ownership, Saratoga struggled through the rest of the century.

In 1900, the Jockey Club purchased the track and William C Whitney was elected president of the Saratoga Racing Association. During the Whitney regime, many improvements were made. The track size was increased to a mile and an eighth, the grandstand was changed so that the afternoon sun shone on the rear, a new saddling paddock was added and a turf course was instituted. The clubhouse received special treatment during this era. A cafe was placed on the lower level and a beautiful iron railing with ornamental gates was added. Most important though was that the old stakes races were all reinstated and new stakes races were added like the Hopeful, which continues to this day.

Saratoga continued in grand style until 1911 when it was forced to close for two seasons because of a law that had been passed making oral betting illegal. When the bill was reworded in 1913, Belmont and Saratoga both quickly reopened. In 1917, the Fasig-Tipton sales began. Many famous thoroughbreds have passed through the pavilion that holds these yearly sales. Millions of dollars pass hands during these auctions.

The twenties departed and brought in another hard era with the stock market crash of the 1930's, although it did take a few years for the effects of the crash to be felt in Saratoga. The Travers Stakes in 1930 had attendance records of 30,000 including Governor Franklin Roosevelt. It was during this century that much of the beautification of Saratoga began. Trees were planted, shrubs and flowers were added and a lake was dug in the infield. Saratoga quickly rebounded from the setbacks of the Great Depression.

World War II broke out in 1941, but it was racing as usual in Saratoga during the following summer. But the war did take its toll. In 1943, the Saratoga Meet was moved downstate to Belmont. Saratoga remained dark until 1946. Attendance slowly resumed and by the 1950's Saratoga was back on track. In September of 1954, an announcement was made that over 3 million dollars would be spent improving the track. In 1955, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame opened across the street from the racecourse. The promised improvements stalled while demands of better access to the track via new roadways also stalled.

In 1963, Saratoga celebrated its 100-year anniversary in style. Parades were held and all enjoyed recreations of original races. The planned improvements finally broke loose and were planned for the time between the 1964 and 1965 meets so that there would be no interruption. This new construction included a 550-foot long addition to the grandstand. New cafeterias, escalators, better ventilation and a new roof were also part of these improvements.

Through the years many legendary horses have crossed the finish line at Saratoga. These include Longfellow, Man o' War, Gallant Fox, Kelso, Cigar, Secretariat, Affirmed, Alydar, Go For Wand and Fourstardave. Man o' War suffered his only defeat in Saratoga, during the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes. Go For Wand is actually buried in the infield of Saratoga. Fourstardave has a street in Saratoga named after him when retired. He won his races at Saratoga for eight straight years. Stop in at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame to learn more about these horses' famous careers.

The horses still hold their appeal over 100 years later. Sports Illustrated recently named Saratoga Race Course as one of the Top 20 Venues of the 20th Century. This is how Sports Illustrated describes the track, "With its striped awnings, old wooden clubhouse and grandstand, and paddock shaded by elms, Saratoga transports you back to the days when people came to the races in surreys with the fringe on top."

The grounds and the outbuildings continue to be improved and beautified each year without taking away from their historic significance. During August, the sounds of music fill the air, the scent of flowers permeates and hats are back in style. Beauty and grace go hand in hand in Saratoga during the Summer Season. Whether you visit for a day, a week or a month, Saratoga will never cease to delight you. So, come for the racing, and stay for a while.

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