Saratoga Race Course

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Saratoga Race Course
Saratoga Race Course logo pic.PNG
Gate A entrance to the race course
LocationSaratoga Springs, New York, U.S.
Coordinates43°04′18″N 73°46′07″W / 43.07167°N 73.76861°W / 43.07167; -73.76861Coordinates: 43°04′18″N 73°46′07″W / 43.07167°N 73.76861°W / 43.07167; -73.76861
Owned byState of New York
Operated byNew York Racing Association
Date openedAugust 3, 1863 (157 years ago) (1863-08-03)
Screened onMSG Plus (restricted to cable systems in New York City, Northern/Central New Jersey, Fairfield County, Connecticut and Northeastern Pennsylvania)
Capital OTB via WXXA Channel 23.2) Now app (Internet)
Altitude Sports (Rocky Mountains)
Fox Sports 2
Fox Sports Ohio
Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket (Southern California)
Fox Sports San Diego
NBC Sports Network[1]
NBC Television
Course typeFlat/Thoroughbred
Notable racesTravers Stakes (G1)
Whitney Handicap (G1)
Alabama Stakes (G1)
Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1)
Official website

Saratoga Race Course is a Thoroughbred horse racing track located on Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, New York, United States. Opened in 1863, it is often considered to be the oldest major sporting venue of any kind in the country,[2] but is actually the fourth oldest racetrack in the US (after 3rd oldest Pleasanton Fairgrounds Racetrack,[3] 2nd oldest Fair Grounds Race Course,[4] and oldest Freehold Raceway[5]). In 1857 the Empire Race Course was opened on an island in the Hudson River near Albany,[6] but was in operation only a short time.

The Saratoga meet originally lasted only four days.[7] 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.[8]


The main track in 1907
Dawn on the main track in 1963

Saratoga Springs was the site of standardbred racing as early as 1847.[9] 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).[10] The current course was opened across the street from the old standardbred track the following year.[11] 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 Leonard Jerome.[12] 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.[13] Anti-gambling legislation, which had passed in New York, resulted in a cessation in all thoroughbred racing in that state during 1911 and 1912.[14] The track's first parimutuel betting machines were installed in 1940.[15] 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.[16]

In 1999, Saratoga Race Course was rated as Sports Illustrated's #10 sports venue of the 20th Century.[17]

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[edit]

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).[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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,[24] previously 2:45 PM.[25]


The following are Graded stakes races run at Saratoga:[26]

Grade I Stakes races:

Grade II Stakes races:

Grade III Stakes races:

Ungraded stakes

Discontinued Stakes races:



Buried at Clare Court Jogging Track are Fourstardave, Mourjane (IRE), Quick Call[27] 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.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

Winslow Homer drawing from August 1865 Harper's Weekly

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.[29]

The racetrack is referenced in the song "Adelaide's Lament" from the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls in the line "When they get on that train to Niagara and she can hear church bells chime, the compartment is air conditioned and the mood sublime...then they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time!"[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Belmont Park TV Schedule
  2. ^ Olmsted, Larry (29 May 2013). "Nation's "Oldest Racetrack" Turns 150 And Plans Summer Of Fun". Forbes. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Alameda County Fair Horse Racing".
  4. ^ "Historical Timeline - Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots".
  5. ^ Barbara Pepe (2003). Freehold: A Hometown History. Arcadia Publishing. p. 81.
  6. ^ "The Race on the New Empire Track, Albany, between Mr. Dalton’s Horse of Albany, and Mr. Sheehan's of New-York.". The New-York Daily Times, 27 June 1857 1857.
  7. ^ Hotaling, p. 43.
  8. ^ Silver, Dan (October 7, 2009). "NYRA Expands 2010 Saratoga Meet by Four Days". New York Racing Association. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  9. ^ Hotaling, Edward (1995). They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-8156-0350-9.
  10. ^ Blood-Horse Magazine. July 20, 2013, issue p. 14.
  11. ^ Hotaling, p. 53–54.
  12. ^ "John Morrissey". 2018-01-01. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  13. ^ Hoteling, p. 158
  14. ^ Kinney, Jim (August 3, 2006). "Too hot to trot at race course". The Record. Troy. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  15. ^ "Saratoga 150: First betting Machines at Race Track". The Saratogian. 21st Century Media. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  16. ^ Louisa Leombruno, Rebecca Longley. "Saratoga 150: Track renovated in the 1960s". The Saratogian. 21st Century Media. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  17. ^ "Century's Best - SI's Top 20 Venues of the 20th Century". Sports Illustrated. June 7, 1999. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  18. ^ "History of Saratoga". New York Racing Association. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  19. ^ Vosburgh, W.S.; Racing in America, 1866–1921
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "History of Saratoga Race Course, One of the Oldest Race Tracks In America". Retrieved 2016-08-01.
  22. ^ "Big Red Spring- Mineral Spring in Saratoga Race Track". Retrieved 2016-08-01.
  23. ^ Staff, Web (2015-08-29). "The Travers Stakes: A rich history". NEWS10 ABC. Retrieved 2016-08-01.
  24. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about the Saratoga Racetrack". Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  25. ^ "Saratoga Race Course Timeline". Mannix Marketing. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  26. ^ "Saratoga 2012" (webpage). Retrieved 2012-07-26.
  27. ^ "QUICK CALL (USA) b. G, 1984 - 86 Starts, 16 Wins, 15 Places, 12 Shows Career Earnings: $807,817". Thoroughbred Pedigree Online. 2020. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Grave Matters: Turf Hallmarks". Thoroughbred Heritage. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  29. ^ Ian Robinson (2013-12-12), CARLY SIMON - YOU'RE SO VAIN Lyrics, retrieved 2016-08-01
  30. ^ "Adelaide's Lament Lyrics - Guys and Dolls Soundtrack Lyrics". Lyrics On Demand. Retrieved 2016-06-14.

External links[edit]

Other reading[edit]

  • 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.