SI Vault
William Leggett
August 07, 1961
This is the traditional boast of the pleasant upstate New York community whose magnificent racecourse holds its annual meeting in August, when New York City's tracks are closed. Here, horse and rider gallop through a workout in early-morning haze.
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August 07, 1961

Saratoga: 'where Horse Is King'

This is the traditional boast of the pleasant upstate New York community whose magnificent racecourse holds its annual meeting in August, when New York City's tracks are closed. Here, horse and rider gallop through a workout in early-morning haze.

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Saratoga has been called many things since its first meeting in 1863, just five weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. Even today one hears such phrases as "the graveyard of favorites," "the dowager queen of the American turf," "the proving ground of champions," "the most beautiful race track in America." It is all of these, and each year it takes on added significance for people who genuinely love Thoroughbred racing.

Last week, the pleasant and ancient course prepared to go about its business for the 93rd time. Men played hoses across the beautiful green infield to give the grass a brighter glow, and the fountain in back of the tote board sent graceful sprays of water high into the afternoon air. Swans glided peacefully on the infield lake, and florists stuffed geraniums into the boxes on the front of the red grandstand. A boy with a rag dusted off the Currier and Ives prints in the main clubhouse bar, and a tree surgeon walked through the elmed shade of the huge paddock and announced that no major surgery would be necessary.

This season the track will probably have the finest meeting in its long and proud history. Whether it will be a financial success (and it seldom is) will depend on just how deeply the fingernails of the current recession have dug into the economy of the cities surrounding Saratoga. Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Glens Falls and Saratoga itself have had a bad year financially, and these cities supply the majority of patrons at the track.

For sport's sake, however, things could not look brighter, though only a few days ago there was some question of whether there would be enough horses on the grounds to hold any kind of a meeting.

Most of the horses scheduled to race at Saratoga have been stabled at Aqueduct and Belmont, where efforts of the Teamsters Union to organize grooms and other backstretch workers have led to picketing and a strike of some stable employees. The problem was how to get the horses out of Aqueduct and Belmont and up to Saratoga without running the gantlet of possible violence on the picket lines and without using Teamster horse-van drivers who refused to cross the lines. It was solved by logistics that would do credit to wartime troop movements.

The horses were loaded on trains at a rail siding in Elmont, Long Island. They went through the Sunnyside yards in to New York's Pennsylvania Station, then out of the station to Stamford, Conn. From there they went back in to New York's Grand Central Station, then north to Albany, with a short stop at Harmon to change engines, and on to Saratoga. There, private vans took the horses to the track. The normal six-hour trip took 14 hours. Other private vans were routed up the New York Thruway, escorted by state police; at the Saratoga city line local police continued the escort to the track. By last weekend there were more than enough horses at Saratoga to assure a successful meeting. A few pickets appeared at the track but Saratogans, whose year-long economy is geared to the one month of racing (nearly $3 million in hotel revenue alone), were breathing easily.

Beginning with this Saturday's $50,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies, Saratoga will have the best horses in every division appearing in at least one race. The Alabama, over a distance of a mile and a quarter, will bring together, for the first time, Brookmeade Stable's Bowl of Flowers and Darby Dan Farm's Primonetta. While most people feel that Bowl of Flowers is far superior to any of the current group of fillies and perhaps even better than the best of the 3-year-old colts, a few doubters believe that Primonetta will give her a good test. Eddie Arcaro will ride Bowl of Flowers and Willie Shoemaker will ride Primonetta, and who could ask for anything more? The 3-year-old colts get their chance in the $75,000 Travers on August 12. Right now it looks like Carry Back against the field, and if he can even imitate his form of early spring he should be very much the best. Ambiopoise is the Travers dark horse; he is extremely partial to the Saratoga racing surface.

Year after year Saratoga provides 2-year-olds with a chance to show their real worth in five major stakes. The Hopeful, at six and a half furlongs on closing day, August 26, is one of the most eagerly awaited races of any season. The list of winners of the Hopeful reads like a chart of American racing itself—Regret, Man o' War, Morvich, Whirlaway, Devil Diver, Relic, Middle-ground, Battlefield, Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles, First Landing, Hail to Reason. The indications are that this year's crop of 2-year-olds is one of the best of recent years, though the majority of good eastern youngsters have not yet been to the races. In the next few weeks Saratoga will demonstrate which colt will be the favorite for the rich fall races and perhaps next year's Kentucky Derby as well.

This season, for the first time, Saratoga will have turf racing on its program. A new one-mile grass course has been completed and it gives the track three surfaces on which to conduct racing—the main track, the turf course and the steeplechase (and hurdle) course. Two major grass races will be run over the new course, and Racing Secretary Tommy Trotter plans to fit a turf race into the regular program as often as possible. Harbor View Farm's fine grass runner, Wolfram, can go either for the Bernard Baruch or the Sanford, both worth $25,000.

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