Saratoga Race Course

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Saratoga Race Course
Gate A entrance to the race course
Location Saratoga Springs, New York, U.S.
Owned by State of New York
Operated by New York Racing Association
Date opened August 3, 1863 (159 years ago) (1863-08-03)
Course type Flat/Thoroughbred
Notable races Travers Stakes (G1)
Whitney Handicap (G1)
Alabama Stakes (G1)
Woodward Stakes (G1)
Official website

Saratoga Race Course is a thoroughbred horse racing track in Saratoga Springs, New York, United States, with a capacity of 50,000.[1] Opened in 1863, it is the third oldest racetrack in the US (after 2nd oldest Pleasanton Fairgrounds Racetrack & oldest Freehold Raceway), though it is often considered to be the oldest sporting venue of any kind in the country.[2]


The Main Track in 1907
Dawn on the Main Track in 1963

Saratoga Springs was the site of standardbred racing as early as 1847.[3] On August 3, 1863, casino operator and future congressman John Morrissey organized the first thoroughbred race card on the track previously used for harness racing (and now the location of the Oklahoma Training Track).[4] The current course was opened across the street from the old standardbred track the following year.[5] 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, John Morrissey, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Saratoga meet originally lasted only four days.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] Anti-gambling legislation, which had passed in New York, resulted in a cessation in all thoroughbred racing in that state during 1911 and 1912.[9] The track's first parimutuel betting machines were installed in 1940.[10] 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.

The late 1800s were a period of decline for the Race Course. In 1892 it was purchased by notorious gambler Gottfried "Dutch Fred" Waldbaum, the operator of the notorious Guttenberg racetrack in New Jersey. Finally it was purchased in 1901 by a group of investors led by William Collins Whitney, who made major improvements and restored its reputation.

In the 1960s, the grandstand was extended, doubling the track's seating capacity.[11]

In 1999, Saratoga Race Course was rated as Sports Illustrated's #10 sports venue of the 20th Century.[12]

Saratoga Race Course has several nicknames: The Spa (for the nearby mineral springs), the House of Upsets, and the Graveyard of Champions. Famous race horses to lose at the track:

Physical attributes and races

Race course from Union Avenue

As is the case with the other two tracks operated by the New York Racing Association – Aqueduct and Belmont Park  – there are three separate tracks in the main course at Saratoga Race Course:

  • a main (dirt) track, which, like that at Aqueduct, has a ​1 18-mile (9-furlong or 1,811 m) circumference;
  • a 1-mile (8-furlong) turf track, known officially as the Mellon Turf Course in honor of the Mellon family, whose members include prominent thoroughbred owner/breeder Paul Mellon and his father Andrew Mellon, a former United States Treasury Secretary; and
  • an inner turf track, the circumference of which is 7 furlongs (1,408 m).[13]

Steeplechase races are also run at Saratoga Race Course and take place on the inner turf course.

The Oklahoma Training Track, which is across Union Avenue from the main course (was originally named Horse Haven), is used for warmups and training. The Oklahoma Training Track site was the location of the track used for racing at the inaugural meet in 1863; the main grandstand was opened at the current site the following year.[14] On August 3, 2013, the new Whitney Viewing Stand opened at the Oklahoma Track. It allows public viewing of workouts at the track, replicating a former stand from the 19th century.[15]

A former distinctive feature of Saratoga Race Course's dirt track was the Wilson Mile chute, which branched off from the clubhouse (first) turn at a 90-degree angle. After the 1971 meeting, its use was suspended; following a brief resumption during the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was dismantled, leaving no distance available for dirt races at one mile. A similarly-designed chute is still in use at Ellis Park Racecourse, a racetrack in Kentucky, and is the only such chute of its kind that can be found at any North American track today.

The grounds at Saratoga Race Course contain several unique features. Prior to each race, a bell is hand rung at exactly 17 minutes prior to scheduled post time for each race to call the jockeys to the paddock. Patrons can get close up views of the horses being led to the paddock as the path from the stables runs through the picnic grounds. There is a mineral spring called the Big Red Spring in the picnic grounds where patrons can partake of the water that made Saratoga Springs famous. A gazebo is a prominent feature on the infield, and a stylized version of the gazebo is part of Saratoga Race Course logo.

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 Breeders' Cup Classic "Win and You're In" qualifier).

A new addition in recent years has been "twilight racing", where the first race post time is at 2:30 pm on some days,[16] previously 2:45 PM.[17]


The following are Graded stakes races run at Saratoga:[18]


Buried at Clare Court Jogging Track are Fourstardave, Mourjane (IRE) and A Phenomenon. Champion filly Go For Wand, who suffered a fatal injury during the stretch run of the 1990 Breeders Cup Distaff, is buried in the Saratoga Race Course infield.[19]

In popular culture

The Race Course is the setting of a scene early on in the Ian Fleming James Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever It also is the setting of Sherwood Anderson's short story "I Want to Know Why".

Saratoga is also referenced in Carly Simon's 1972 #1 hit, "You're So Vain." The line "I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse naturally won" refers to the Saratoga Race Course.

See also


  2. Olmsted, Larry (29 May 2013). "Nation's "Oldest Racetrack" Turns 150 And Plans Summer Of Fun". Forbes. Retrieved 20 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hotaling, Edward (1995). They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-8156-0350-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Blood-Horse Magazine. July 20, 2013, issue p. 14.
  5. Hotaling, p. 53–54.
  6. Hotaling, p. 43.
  7. Silver, Dan (October 7, 2009). "NYRA Expands 2010 Saratoga Meet by Four Days". New York Racing Association. Retrieved 2010-06-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Hoteling, p. 158
  9. Kinney, Jim (August 3, 2006). "Too hot to trot at race course". The Record. Troy. Retrieved 2007-05-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Saratoga 150: First betting Machines at Race Track". The Saratogian. 21st Century Media. Retrieved 18 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Louisa Leombruno, Rebecca Longley. "Saratoga 150: Track renovated in the 1960s". The Saratogian. 21st Century Media. Retrieved 18 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Century's Best - SI's Top 20 Venues of the 20th Century". Sports Illustrated. June 7, 1999. Retrieved 2010-01-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "History of Saratoga". New York Racing Association. Retrieved 22 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Vosburgh, W.S.; Racing in America, 1866-1921
  15. Post, Paul (August 1, 2013). "Whitney viewing stand to open Saturday at Saratoga Race Course's Oklahoma training track". The Saratogian. Retrieved 12 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Frequently Asked Questions about the Saratoga Racetrack". Retrieved 12 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Saratoga Race Course Timeline". Mannix Marketing. Retrieved 13 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Saratoga 2012" (webpage). Retrieved 2012-07-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Grave Matters: Turf Hallmarks". Thoroughbred Heritage. Retrieved 9 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Other reading

  • Heller, Bill. Saratoga Tales: Great Horses, Fearless Jockeys, Shocking Upsets and Incredible Blunders at America's Legendary Race Track (2004). Whitston Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-87875-551-6.

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