America’s Best Horse-Racing Track Turns 153
PHOTO: Welcome to America’s best horse racing track. (Courtesy saratoga.com)
America’s best horse-racing track turned 153 years old today, Aug. 3, and it’s not what you think.
No, it’s not Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, or either of the other two Triple Crown tracks for that matter.
It’s not Santa Anita in California.
It’s not Oaklawn in Arkansas or Gulfstream Park in Florida.
No, America’s best horse-racing venue is in upstate New York, with a six-week schedule, nestled in a picturesque town with an air of exclusivity.
Welcome to Saratoga Race Course.
Here are a few things you should know about Saratoga’s famous track.
1) It is located in Saratoga Springs, a little less than a four-hour drive north from New York City. Originally, the town of Saratoga Springs was doing just fine, thank you, without the need of a racetrack. It had been a tourist haven for its natural mineral springs – and its gambling – long before casino-owner and future U.S. Congressman John Morrissey decided to buy 125 acres of land to build a track.
2) The most important names in the history of thoroughbred horse racing have raced at Saratoga, including Secretariat. Now they mix with the biggest names in music – the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center, nicknamed SPAC, attracts A-list bands and musicians.
3) Saratoga Race Course has its own nickname as well, albeit more ominous if you are actually in the business of horse racing – The Graveyard Of Champions. Horses seemingly come here and forget what made them champions. For instance, Man o’ War lost his only race in 21 starts at Saratoga in 1919 to – wait for it – a horse named Upset. Secretariat lost in the 1973 Whitney Handicap after winning the Triple Crown earlier that year. And, just last year, American Pharoah – the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 – lost to Keen Ice in Saratoga’s signature race, the Travers Stakes. To be fair, however, Saratoga’s short race season is from late July until Labor Day, and thoroughbreds are often tired from the Triple Crown season by that point.
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4) Haven’t been to Saratoga? No worries. You’ve seen it. The track and its surrounding beauty has been in such films as “Diamonds Are Forever,” "Seabiscuit," "The Horse Whisperer," and "Billy Bathgate.”
5) Despite technological advancements and other changes over the course of 150 years, Saratoga Race Course has maintained its elegance. Men and women dress to the nines, with suit jackets and stylish hits, and not just on something like Derby Day. This is every day. And the real stars of the show, the horses, still walk right through the crowd on a white-fenced path between the track and the paddock.
More by Rich Thomaselli
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