Jul 20th 2008 09:00 pm |
Image: The Saratoga grandstand, circa 1905 (Library of Congress)
Over 100 years ago, the track inspired this description found in a news story about opening day in 1907:
“You have seen the horses race around Sheepshead’s beautiful course, you have won and lost bets to the accompaniment of beach breezes at Brighton Beach, you have inhaled the fragrance which the surroundings of Belmont Park affords and you have watched your horses going into the lead in Gravesend’s broad stretches, but it’s a dollar to a peanut that you never saw anything in a racing way to compare with the beauties of the Spa’s racing plant.
“This is really a picture track and was at its best today. The weather was perfection. A delightfully cool breeze blew into the grand stand and the sun seemed to distribute its rays so as to cause the least discomfort. In a word everything was lovely – sublime. The track was lightning fast and the grass of the infield was short and green as the emerald flag.
“About fifteen thousand were at the track for the first day’s sport. It was a well dressed, high class gathering. Women, gayly attired and for the most part pretty, occupied the grand stand, while the male portion spread themselves over the lawn between the paddock and club-house.”
Another reason Saratoga has history like no other is the deep legacy of the great horses who have run around its oval. In reading the article on opening day 1907, you’ll find that Fair Play won his first major stake as a 2-year-old on the meet’s first day. Fair Play’s career as a race horse would be overshadowed by the great Colin but his name as a sire will be forever remembered because of his famous son, Man O’ War.
Here is how the newspaper described Fair Play’s victory:
“The two stakes events of Saratoga’s opening day, the Flash, for two-year-olds, and the $10,000 Saratoga Handicap, proved fortune-makers for the bookmakers, in both these events the favorites were soundly beaten, and they carried about $200,000 of the public money…
“The Sullivan-Farrell-Johnson clique came within a length of making a good old-fashioned killing on Frank Farrell’s Golden Garter colt Jim Gaffney, in the $6,000 Flash Stakes for youngsters. The tip wasn’t general, but a few of the wise boys including George Wheelock [see notes below] had it and went to it good across the board.
“You could tell the money was down the way Jack Martin got away from the post. He was two lengths in front in the first sixteenth and held the advantage right up to the last sixteenth pole. Here Fair Play, who had been second all the way, moved up, Martin tried hard to keep Jim Gaffney in front but could not and in the drive to the wire Fair Play drew away to win by a short length. The rest finished in a bunch. Sir Cleges, the added starter, being the foremost and getting the show end by a nose. The Whitney pairs, well backed at 6 to 5, got nothing.”
Image: The Saratoga backyard, circa 1907 (Library of Congress)
Read the full article about Saratoga opening day 1907 at the Library of Congress.
NOTES AND SOURCES
“$200,000 Lost by Public in Saratoga Stakes Races”, New York Evening World, August 7, 1907
The photographs used here are from the Library of Congress prints and photographs online catalog. They have about a dozen historic images of the Saratoga track available online. Most of the images are in the public domain. Here is a link to the prints and photographs search page if you would like to take a look. Use the search term: “Saratoga race”
If you would like to read a solid history of Saratoga racing, check out: Edward Hotaling’s, They’re Off!: Horse Racing at Saratoga. Another good one: Bill Heller’s Saratoga Tales. Both books can be had through Amazon or check out the local book stores in Saratoga.
Read a brief history of New York tracks by Ron Hale
George Wheelock, mentioned as one of the “wise guys” in the story, was president of the Metropolitan Turf Association, bookmaking group that operated at the New York race tracks. A May 20, 1905 New York Times article explained their arrangement at Belmont Park: “Each member of the Metroplitan Turf Association…paid for the privileges of operating in the ‘big’ ring $57 a day, while the men in the back line paid $37 a day each, and the ‘hurdlers,’ who transact business in a row still further back and without stools, paid $17 a day each”
Thanks for reading! See you at Saratoga…