The record-setting 147th meet at historic Saratoga Race Course saw the continued growth of two marquee days, Whitney Day and Travers Day, the latter of which marked by the historic appearance of American Pharoah, only the fourth Triple Crown winner ever to compete in the “Mid-Summer Derby.” While the momentum from American Pharoah’s victory in the Belmont Stakes drove attendance and handle at the Spa, perhaps one of the best moments in racing came the day before his upset by Keen Ice in the Travers, when 15,000 fans turned out in the morning just to watch him jog around the track.
With paid attendance at more than one million in 2015, the annual summer meet at Saratoga Race Course generates $237 million in economic activity and nearly 2,600 jobs across the greater Capital Region, according to the findings of a study released this year by the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The update also shows a surge in job growth of more than 30 percent attributed to the operation of Saratoga Race Course and its participants, including owners, trainers and jockeys, as well as tourism activity generated by the track.
Already famous for its mineral baths, Saratoga held its first thoroughbred meet just a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. Staged by gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future Congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and beginning on August 3, 1863, the four-day meet drew thousands of locals and tourists who saw Lizzie W. defeat Captain Moore in the best-of-three series of races.
Emboldened by the success of that first meet, Morrissey promptly enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, William Travers and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Association. Its first responsibility was the construction of a new, permanent grandstand on the current site of Saratoga Race Course. Across the street, the “old course” became the barn area known as Horse Haven, with the vestiges of the original track still encircling the stables.
While the summer meet routinely drew weekday crowds of more than 10,000 during the 1950’s, there was concern that the Greater New York Association, formed in 1955, would run a concurrent meet downstate. In April, 1957, Gov. Averill Harriman signed into law a bill that prohibited a simultaneous downstate meet and also guaranteed a minimum of 24 days of racing at the Spa. In 1963, the construction of the Northway improved automotive access to the track from the New York State Thruway in Albany.
Named one of the world’s great sporting venues by Sports Illustrated, the past comes alive every summer in the historic grandstand as guests experience not only the best in thoroughbred racing, but the unmatched ambience and charm of Saratoga Springs.
Although some may quibble with the order, it’s no wonder that Saratoga’s motto is “Health, history, and horses.”
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