The Saratoga Race Course
Millions flock to Saratoga Springs, New York to witness thoroughbred horse racing at the "grandmother" of American racetracks
Story by John Coleman
Photos courtesy of Adam Coglianese, official New York Racing Association photographer
Deep into the dog days of summer, as the long hot days seem to melt into one, it is a trumpet's sound that sparks life into Saratoga Springs. For six weeks of summer, from July 26th to September 4th, the Saratoga Race Course offers the best in thoroughbred horse racing. On some days during the season, the local population of Saratoga Springs quadruples from twenty-seven thousand to more than 100,000.
The racetrack offers the best in thoroughbred horse racing. The feature race is the Travers Stakes, named for founder William Travers. This year will mark the 137th running of the Travers Stakes, which takes place on August 28th, and is ten years older than the Kentucky Derby. The Travers draws the largest real crowd of the year (all-time Travers record: 69,523 in 2002), with the Whitney Stakes drawing the second largest.
At the track, you can enjoy the action from the grandstand for $3 or mix it up with the upper echelon of society in the clubhouse for a $5 admission. For the less endowed, the “backyard” gives visitors the seating options of a shaded picnic table or picnic blanket, while watching the races on the many video monitors. While the track isn't visible from this area, those in the backyard have the ability to see the glistening thoroughbreds close up as they round the paddock nearby prior to a race. Coolers and picnic baskets are allowed, and alcohol is permitted.
According to Joseph Dalton Jr., president of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, the average daily attendance at the track is thirty thousand, and over one million visit the track annually. The average person spends $140 dollars per day at the track but, Dalton notes, “Coming to the track is more a social environment than a betting environment. While there are some big betters, most people just come with $20 and say, ‘When I run out, I run out."
"While there are some big betters, most people just come with $20 and say, 'When I run out, I run out.'"
Thoroughbred horse racing in Saratoga was a natural byproduct of casino gambling in the cities. Tourists, attracted by therapeutic spring water and baths, came to Saratoga Springs long before horse racing arrived. The waters attracted entrepreneurs and soon hotels, resorts, and casinos began popping up. In 1883, John Morrisey had the idea to keep casino gamblers busy with horse racing during daylight hours when casinos didn't operate. Morrisey's idea proved to be a good one and in 1884, racing moved from the “Horse Haven” (which remains across the street from the track) to the newly-built Saratoga Race Course.
William Travers, Leonard Jerome, and John Hunter built the 350-acre racetrack in 1863, making it America's oldest racetrack. Highlighted by the recognizable multi-spire grandstand, the Saratoga Race Course is often mentioned in the same breath as the sites of the three prestigious Triple Crown races-Churchill Downs, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby; Pimlico, Maryland, home of the Preakness; and Belmont Park, New York, home of the Belmont Stakes.
In the past, the Saratoga Race Course has seen many inspiring stories and names like the true story of Seabiscuit. The Laura Hillenbrand inspirational novel-made-movie was set in the tumultuous 1930s and cast Tobey Maguire as Seabiscuit's ill-fated jockey, who rode the undersized horse to fame and glory.
The popularity of the movie led to a record-breaking
season of attendance at the racetrack in 2003. Inspiration moved again
in 2004, when Funny Cide, a horse locally bred in Saratoga won the Kentucky
Derby and the Preakness, but lost the Belmont Stakes, falling one race
short of claiming the elusive Triple Crown. A street nearby the racetrack
is now aptly named “Funny Cide Lane.” Other famous horses that have
graced the track are Triple Crown winners War Admiral, Seattle Slew,
There are contractual discrepancies between the racing organization and New York state about who should own the rights to the racetrack in 2008. According to Mike Kane, communications officer at the National Museum of Horse Racing and Hall of Fame, Governor Pataki has claimed the racetrack needs to be turned over to the state in 2007, however, the New York Racing Association objects. Only time will tell who the rightful owner will be.
Over the years, the track has seen its ups and downs. According to Kane, the track benefited when many illegal casinos went out of business in the late 40s and early 50s, while suffering slightly with the advent of off-track betting, which gained popularity in the 70s. However, the Saratoga Race Course success can be largely attributed to the thriving city nearby.
Unlike other race courses in America, the Saratoga Race Course remains in similar condition to when it was built. Original woodwork remains in the clubhouse and grandstand and little renovations aside from additional seating have been made.
"...citizens of Saratoga are vigilant and will do anything in their power to ensure its success."
"It is unrealistic to predict if the track can grow as it has in the past few years, but the future is bright for the track, and citizens of Saratoga are vigilant and will do anything in their power to ensure its success," Kane says.
Other Saratoga Attractions:
On the bill for this summer:
For up to date concert additions, check out Saratoga Performing Art Center's website.
$7.00 adults, $5.00 students and senior citizens (55 and older); members and children five and under are free.
many types of bets you can make on any given race. The most common is
one for a horse to either win the race, place (the horse comes in first
or second), or show (the horse finishes in either first, second, or third
place). The greater the odds, the more money you can make; therefore,
picking a “long shot” with, say, 10 to 1 odds to win, will make you more
money than a horse that has a 3 to 1 chance to win.
win, you must choose the first and second finishers in exact order.
here to better understand how pari-mutuel betting works.