Saratoga Race Course (Saratoga Springs, NY)
(Racing Dates: 07/16/2020 - 09/07/2020)
Saratoga Race Course is a thoroughbred horse racing track located on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, New York, United States, with a capacity of 50,000. Opened in 1863, it is often considered to be the oldest major sporting venue of any kind in the country, but is actually the fourth oldest racetrack in the US (after 3rd oldest Pleasanton Fairgrounds Racetrack, 2nd oldest Fair Grounds Race Course, and oldest Freehold Raceway).
In 1857 the Empire Race Course was opened on an island in the Hudson River near Albany, but was in operation only a short time.
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 five days per week, and traditionally spans from mid-July through Labor Day in early September.
Saratoga Springs was the site of standardbred racing as early as 1847. 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 (called Horse Haven that track is no longer used and is near 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, John Morrissey, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
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, which had 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.
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 North Bergen, 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.
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. Famous race horses to lose at the track:
- Man o' War suffered his only defeat in twenty-one starts while racing at Saratoga Race Course, losing to Upset in the 1919 Sanford Stakes;
- Gallant Fox, the 1930 Triple Crown winner, was beaten by the 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers Stakes;
- Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, was defeated by Onion in the 1973 Whitney Handicap;
- Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, was beaten in the 2010 Personal Ensign Stakes by Persistently, who closed a length and a half in the final 1/16 mile;
- American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner and a 1-5 favorite, was upset in the 2015 Travers Stakes by Keen Ice for his second career loss.
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 1⁄8-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).
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.
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.
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, with a purse of $1,250,000. 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, previously 2:45 PM.
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