Saratoga Opening Day, 1907

Jul 20th 2008 09:00 pm |

Why is Saratoga the mecca of American thoroughbred racing? Simply stated: No other track has maintained its preeminence in the hearts and minds of race goers for such an extended period of time.

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.

Image: The Saratoga crowd watches the horses turning into the stretch, circa 1907 (Library of Congress)

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.


“$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…

Filed in Fair Play,Saratoga,Saratoga grandstand,Saratoga opening day

8 Responses to “Saratoga Opening Day, 1907”

  1. SaratogaSpa says:

    Nice history! well done–see you at the Spa!

  2. ljk says:

    Love your blog, and welcome to the Spa.

  3. waynelivoti says:

    I just love this stuff. I got so carried away into 1907 that I read a couple of pages of the newspaper and found out that all crime in New York was being blamed on Italian immigrants! No wonder my ancestors didn’t feel like they were being welcomed with open arms by America. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this season. Too bad I’m stuck in god-awful Texas. I must somehow eventually return to my native land. Keep up the great work! The August Place to be, indeed!

  4. Jeanne says:

    Great stuff on the history of the Spa. I spent some time this spring researching Saratoga racing history. It’s been alot of fun!

  5. thoroughbredbrief says:

    Thanks for posting this. I haven’t made it to the Spa yet, but this kind of history is what motivates me to get up there one day.

  6. cainhoy says:

    Have you looked into that ridiculous time when New York banned horse race betting in 1911? When you look at the lists of winners of the great old stakes races in New York, it’s disconcertingly strange to see nothing for 1911 and 1912. God save us from future “reformers” and despicable hypocrites! I just thought of a quaint old track expression that I used to hear in days of yore: “The flag is up!” I miss that old flag…Oh, well.

  7. Ron Dodd says:

    A friend has a horseshoe mounted on a piece of wood that has writing on it that says it is a horseshoe that was worn by Joe Atkins while winning a 1900 race at Saratoga, N.Y. I can’t find the name Joe Atkins in the race winners shown for each of the early races at Saratoga Springs. Has anyone ever seen the name Joe Atkins as a horse’s name or maybe an owner’s name? Thanks.
    Ron Dodd

  8. Laura says:

    To Ron Dodd:

    The horse in question is Jack Atkin owned by Barney Schreiber.