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History of Saratoga


Thoroughbred racing has no finer setting than Saratoga Race Course, which was opened over 150 years ago. Named one of the world’s greatest sporting venues by Sports Illustrated, the past comes alive in the historic grandstand every summer as fans experience not only the best in racing, but the unmatched ambience and charm of historic Saratoga Springs.

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 provided a direct highway route from the Thruway exit in Albany to the racetrack.

Nowadays, the population of Saratoga Springs triples to 75,000 when the thoroughbreds return each summer, with those who come for the races discovering the area’s amazing breadth of history and culture.

With more than 1,000 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Saratoga Springs was honored with the first American Heritage Magazine “Great American Place” award and the National Trust for Historic Places’ “Great American Main Street” award. Walking Magazine cited it as one of America’s “Most Walkable Cities.”

Saratoga Springs is home to the National Museum of Racing, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the National Museum of the Dance, Skidmore College, and many art galleries. Resplendent in Victorian architecture, it also boasts Yaddo Rose Gardens, the Little Theatre at SPAC, the Saratoga Music Hall and the Foundation for Baroque Music. Nearby, Saratoga Battlefield in Stillwater is dedicated to “The Turning Point of the American Revolution,” while Ulysses S. Grant’s Cottage at Mt. McGregor is where the bankrupt former president and Civil War hero, wrote his memoirs and restored his family’s fortune.

Although some may quibble with the order, it’s no wonder that Saratoga’s motto is “Health, history, and horses.”


Area of Site 350 acres
NYRA Parking Capacity 6,000 cars
Main Course 1 1/8 miles
Turf Course 1 mile
Steeplechase Course - Inner Turf Course 7/8 mile
Oklahoma Course 1 mile
Turf & Steeplechase Course 7/8 mile
Clare Court Course 1/2 mile
5 CCTV Race Patrol Camera Towers - 40’ high
Chartered and Tour Bus Parking
Length 1,305 feet
Depth (Varies) 150 feet
Height (Clubhouse) 4 Stories
Height (Grandstand) 2 Stories
Floor Area 385,000 sq. ft.
Stabling Capacity 1,830 Stalls
Dormitory Capacity
(489 Rooms)
1,025 Personnel
Barns 91
Attendance Capacity 70,000
Park Area (Added) 25,000 Estimated
Trackside Dining 2,170
Other Dining 1,600
Total Seating Capacity (including picnic tables
and benches)
Closed-Circuit TV
Monitors (Public)
Kitchens 4
Dining Areas 7
Toilets 23
Elevators 5
Escalators 6
Pari-Mutuel Windows 700+
Ambulances 1
Hospital 5 beds
First Aid Room 4
One-Day Attendance 72,745 on August 11, 2007
One-Day Handle $10,614,786 August 23, 2003 (Travers Day)
Track Attendance 1,049,309 in 2003
Average daily attendance 29,147 in 2003
Meeting handle
(includes downstate)
$140,277,616 in 2011
Average daily handle $3,742,773 in 1993
Opening Day in July 32,913 on July 24, 2002
Opening Day in August 30,658 on August 2, 1989
One-week attendance 195,987 (Fourth week in 2003)
One-week handle $25,989,156 (Third week in 1990)
Largest weekday crowd 34,287 on August 17, 1983
Largest weekday handle $4,392,683 on August 18, 1989