National Museum of Racing celebrates 150 years of Sartaga

1874 Travers Stakes Trophy

To know about the 150 years of history included in the Saratoga Race Course exhibit at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, one first has to remember the times. One hundred and fifty years ago the United States was in the middle of its bloodiest conflict: The Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was just a month before. On August 3 Saratoga Springs hosted its first horse race.

To commemorate the track’s history, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has specially created a wing in the shape of a racetrack, rectangular as it may look.

The timeline along its walls, fixed with dates, pictures, prints and paintings, carries you counter-clockwise from 1863 to 2013; from when it was the August Place to Be to 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Victoria Tokarowski, the museum’s curator, cast a wide net and put together an impressive collection illustrating the rich history of the Spa. “This was the perfect chance to bring out items in our collection and tell stories of racing at Saratoga and share as much of that with the public,” Tokarowski said. That happens to be a public whose confidence in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing is fleeting at best, though residents of the Capital Region may be particularly insulated from that idea. Then again, maybe not. To celebrate the sport the museum looks to the past.

“The sport has such a rich history and it’s been going for so many years,” Tokarawoski said. “There are so many horses, records are still broken, champions made and stories associated with racing. The track closed and always came back. It’s a great celebration year and great time to be in Saratoga.”
With 150 years of treasure, Tokarowski was most surprised by a rare trophy: Attila’s 1874 Travers. Before a run off that eventually saw Attila win the race, the 1874 Travers was the first dead heat. It was just a year ago when Alpha and Golden Ticket both won the Travers in the first official dead heat in the history of the Travers.

Tokarowski began sketching her vision for the exhibit in September of 2012. She knew she wanted to highlight the timeline, to bring the viewer into the history’s chronology. A kiosk plays race replays and you can hear Rachel Alexandra’s thrilling victory in the Woodward Stakes in 2009 while looking at pictures of Man o’ War, Easy Goer and Curlin.

“I’m excited for the public to experience it,” Takarawoski said. “Racing fans old and new may say, ‘I was there that day.’” On the exhibit’s first placard hangs a picture of the track’s founder, John Morrissey. It reads: “He purchased 125 acres across the street from the trotting grounds on Union Ave. and Saratoga Race Course opened for the first time on Aug. 2, 1864. It was immediately heralded as being the finest course in the country.”