150 years of Saratoga Race Course – they open July 19
Saratoga Springs was the site of standardbred racing as early as 1847. The first thoroughbred races at Saratoga Springs took place on August 3, 1863 on the track previously used for harness racing (and now the location of the Oklahoma Training Track). The current course was opened across the street from the old standardbred track the following year. Among those instrumental to the creation of the Saratoga Race Course were John Hunter (later the first chairman of The Jockey Club), William R. Travers, former boxer and future Congressman John Morrissey, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The Saratoga meet originally lasted only four days. The meet has been lengthened gradually since that time; for many decades, the meet lasted four weeks and began in late July or early August. The meet today lasts a total of 40 racing days, with races held six days per week, and traditionally ends on Labor Day.
Saratoga Race Course has been in use almost every year since 1864, with only a handful of exceptions. The course was closed in 1896 due to increasing competition among thoroughbred tracks making the meet at Saratoga not viable that season. Anti-gambling legislation passed in New York resulted in a cessation in all thoroughbred racing in that state during 1911 and 1912. The track’s first parimutuel betting machines were installed in 1940. From 1943 to 1945, racing was curtailed at Saratoga due to travel restrictions during World War II. During those years, the stakes races usually held at Saratoga Race Course were instead contested at Belmont Park.
In the 1960s, the grandstand was extended, doubling the track’s seating capacity.
In 1999, Saratoga Race Course was rated as Sports Illustrated’s #10 sports venue of the 20th Century.
Saratoga Race Course has several nicknames: The Spa (for the nearby mineral springs), the House of Upsets, and the Graveyard of Champions. Man o’ War suffered his only defeat in twenty one starts while racing at Saratoga Race Course; Secretariat was defeated at Saratoga Race Course by Onion after winning the Triple Crown; and Gallant Fox was beaten by 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers Stakes.
Saratoga Race Course is home to several of the most important races in North America. Since 1864, the track has been the site of the Travers Stakes, the oldest major thoroughbred horse race in the United States. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Travers Stakes is contested on dirt and is open only to three year olds. A lake in the middle of the track contains a canoe that is painted annually in the colors of the winning stable for that year’s Travers Stakes winner. Several other major stakes races are held at Saratoga each year as well, including the Alabama Stakes (for three-year-old fillies), the Hopeful Stakes for two year olds, and the Whitney Handicap for open competition.
A new addition in recent years has been “twilight racing”, where the first race post time is at 2:45 PM. After its introduction in 2006, it was expanded to the first and last Friday of the meet.