Saratoga Race Course, in upstate New York, is one of the most famous racing sites worldwide. Every summer, owners, trainers, jockeys, and fans flock to the track, eager to absorb the atmosphere- and hopefully win a little bit of money as well.
What makes this racing site so appealing? Let’s have a look at five fun facts about Saratoga.
Saratoga is one of the oldest sporting venues in the United States still in operation. Its first meet was run on August 3rd, 1863, a mere month after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg.
The meet itself was a mere eight races run over a span of four days, but it drew enough success that organizer John Morrissey was able to convince John Hunter, William Travers, and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Racing Association and invest in a large land purchase and a new grandstand, which debuted the next year.
In 1908, New York introduced the Hart-Agnew law, which aimed to make gambling illegal throughout the state. Although the law did not explicitly ban the racing of horses, the sport is largely financed through gambling revenue, and many of the major players in the racing scene were threatened with fines and jail time if they were known to participate in gambling.
Horsemen such as August Belmont sought to amend the law to limit the liability of horse and track owners, but they failed in this attempt and tracks in New York began to close. Saratoga did not hold a meet in 1911 or 1912 as a result, but was able to reopen in 1913. Bookmakers were still not able to openly operate, but many accepted written “opinions” on races, which were later financially settled off-course.
Eventually, gambling was made legal again, and parimutuel betting began at the track in 1940. Nowadays you can bet on many events, as you can see by this betting guide provided by TwinSpires: twinspires.com/race-tracks/saratoga/betting-guide
The track is near to the city of Saratoga Springs, which, as the name suggests, is built around springs. The springs themselves were said to be able to heal physical ailments as well as restore a person’s emotional health. Originally the home of several Native American tribes such as the Mohawk, the Abenaki, and the Algonquin, in the late nineteenth century the upper crust of America’s white society began to flock to the area, likely to both enjoy the healing properties and avoid the ongoing Civil War.
Something for Everyone
Saratoga’s racing meets offer more than just horse races, as well. Music lovers enjoy the Purdy’s Summer Concert Stage, where a total of 40 live acts will perform over the course of this summer’s meet. The Taste NY Pavilion also offers guests a tour of New York’s best in the food and beverage industry. On Sundays, Berkshire Bank hosts an interactive play area for children and families to enjoy quality time together.
Graveyard of Champions
Although some of the best horses in the history of the American Turf have raced at Saratoga, the track is perhaps best known for the champions who, surprisingly, did not make the winners’ circle on noted occasions.
Man o’War was a great horse by anyone’s measure. A huge red chestnut colt, Man o’War won all his races easily- except one. The 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes for two-year-olds is perhaps the most infamous in American racing history. Man o’War was said to be turned aside, or even completely turned around, when the barrier went up and the race began. Jockey John Loftus then saw his colt shuffled through traffic, and when he finally got clear and began to run, it was too late. He fell a half-length short to a horse with perhaps the most apt name possible: Upset.
Fifty-three years later, another famous red chestnut fell in defeat at Saratoga. The mighty Secretariat had just torn through the Triple Crown and was ready to meet his elders for the first time in the Grade II Whitney Stakes. Secretariat was later said to have been feeling under the weather, but trainer Lucien Laurin elected to have him compete anyway. He likely regretted that decision as Secretariat did not have his usual spark, and raced second to a horse by the name of Onion.