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Saratoga Horse Racing History


Saratoga History - Course


Not only is Saratoga Springs in New York known as the historic turning point in American Revolution. There are the mystical spring waters discovered by the Iroquois, who called this town, “Sarachtogoe.” There is the world’s first potato chip, made by Moon’s Lake House chef, George Crum, irked by a customer’s repeated complaints about his potatoes. There are the movies: Saratoga Trunk with Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper, Saratoga with Clark Gable, Billy Bathgate with Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman.

But most of all, this town is known for the horses at the Saratoga Race Course. Before a crowd of 500, Lizzie W. became the first thoroughbred to win the race at the race track that William Travers, Leonard Jerome, and John Hunter had built in 1863.

A year later, the Travers Stakes was first run in honor of Travers, on the same four-day meet where the steeplechase course, another current-day favorite, was introduced. The Travers Stakes, now believed to be the nation’s oldest stake race in continuous existence, gave rise to the week-long Travers Festival which features various special events including the Travers Ball, which constantly draws celebrities in to this side of New York.

Two decades later, the Saratoga Race Course would suffer a slump that persevered until after the 2nd World War. In the 1880s, the horse racing crowds were split between Saratoga and the new Monmouth race track at New Jersey, although the latter was forced to close down in 1893 due to anti-gambling legislations. In 1911, Saratoga itself was forced to close for two seasons due to a law that had been passed making oral betting illegal. Following the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the Saratoga Meet was moved downstate to Belmont in 1943, and Saratoga remained dark until 1946.

When Saratoga celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 1963, in style, it ushered in a new era for the race track that involved numerous enhancements to the delight of the race track’s most elite and countless fans.

More horse racing legends followed Lizzie W. to make history at the Saratoga Race Course: Longfellow; Man o' War, who suffered his only defeat in 21 starts when he loses to Upset in the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga; Gallant Fox; Kelso; Cigar; Secretariat; Affirmed; Alydar; and Fourstardave, who won at Saratoga for eight straight years and had a street in Saratoga Springs named after him when he retired. Another favorite, Go For Wand, was buried in the Saratoga infield after breaking down at Belmont Park. Most recently, Birdstone, owned by Saratoga socialite MaryLou Whitney, earned an unexpected win at the 2005 Belmont Stakes before the biggest racing crowd in history and 33 million television viewers.

Now over a century and four decades old, the Saratoga Race Course is the earliest and widely considered as the most beautiful race track in North America. In this race track recently named among the “Top 20 Venues of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated, thoroughbred racing’s most elite meet from July through September to watch and bet on the biggest names in race horses.