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Sunday 2 September 2018

A Brief Historical Account of Saratoga Racecourse

Saratoga Racecourse is a widely known thoroughbred sporting ground located in Saratoga Springs, New York – United States. Notably, the racecourse is one of the largest such facilities in the country, with a crowd capacity of well over 50,000. Opened in 1863, Saratoga is obviously one of the oldest racing venues in the continent. Nevertheless, the fact that the racecourse has been in existence for about one hundred and fifty years has not put the amenity in the league of the least developed gaming establishments in the United States. As such, continuously doubling crowds of fans pour into the field during auspicious track events at Saratoga Racecourse. 

Saratoga Springs was a legendary standardbred sporting arena a couple of years before the racecourse’s establishment. As early as 1847, informal race gatherings were regularly held on the same grounds where Saratoga Racecourse would be constructed and launched shortly after in 1863. On 3rd August 1863, gambling investor and would-be congressman – John Morrissey – orchestrated a grandiose sporting competition in which several groundbreaking American jockeys actively engaged. Some of these pioneer racing greats include John Hunter who later became the chairman of the Jockey Club. Similarly, Equestrian sporting luminaries such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Travers played a critical role in these events, too.  

Shortly after launching its race meetings, fixtures on the Saratoga field lasted about four days. However, this duration has been lengthening over the years. For many decades during the 20th century, race meetings happened for several weeks. Even more commendable, current sporting functions at Saratoga take place for more than forty days. However, there are traditionally no events scheduled for Sundays since the calendar runs for six days per week – from Monday to Saturday. Customarily, Saratoga track functions were carefully planned to end on Labor Day. 

The brilliant history of racing at Saratoga Racecourse may tempt you to think that the amenity has been operating smoothly without any challenges. This is far from the case. The series of laws that were ratified in the first decade of the 20th century abolished all gambling activities in the state. As such, betting services were conspicuously absent during the 1911 and 1912 track events. As a result, the facility’s first pari-mutuel betting machines were put up in 1940. Again, the New York travelling bans that were imposed during and after the second global war also affected the racecourse’s 1945/46 annual event calendars. As such, the key stakes fixtures that were traditionally staged at Saratoga were instead relocated to Belmont Racecourse.

While it is laudable impressive that the race-course endured all these turbulent times of the 20th century, they were actually nothing compared to the debilitating woes of the late 1800s. Particularly, the once vibrant facility almost nosedived after it was purchased by a notorious gambler named Gottfried Waldbaum who threw it into a temporary turmoil under which it almost shut down. However, the racecourse’s fortunes markedly improved after it was later purchased by William Collins Whitney. Whitney undertook a wide range of structural overhauls and effectively salvaged the dwindling reputation of the besieged racetrack. It is Whitney, together with John Morrissey who carry the biggest credit for Saratoga's enduring fame and sporting success.

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