07/21/2011 3:20PM

Old & new: The past is present everywhere you turn at historic Saratoga


When I visit other racetracks, it’s the tug of the future that attracts me. Who will win the feature race, set a track record, or draw off to win by 10 and become a horse to watch?

But at Saratoga, it’s what came before that lures me. I witnessed some of the history myself, such as Ruffian’s 1974 Spinaway and an aging, nearly blind Alfred Vanderbilt still listening to backstretch rhythms in the 1990’s.

Yet even Vanderbilt hadn’t begun attending races when Man o’ War suffered one of racing’s most famous defeats, to the aptly named Upset, in the 1919 Sanford. And it has been 130 years since Hall of Famer Hindoo won the 1881 Travers. By then, Saratoga was already in its 19th season.

Now Saratoga’s grandstand echoes anew with hoofbeats during morning workouts. The ancient building, with its creaky wood and ceiling fans and metalwork decorations, has seen it all before.

Embarking upon its 143rd season, Saratoga looks forward. But it’s the past that makes it so unique.

A post at the grandstand entrance shows the track was founded in 1864, a year after the first race meeting at Horse Haven across Union Avenue. 

Above: Saratoga’s signature turreted roof covers the grandstand. Below, an interior shot of the roof shows its wooden framework.

Above: A hallway by the clubhouse section of the track on the second floor.

Above:  The box seats area features wooden seats and TV monitors.

Above: The grandstand seats and stairs are also made of wood.

The Travers canoe in the infield lake is painted in the colors of the previous year’s winner. Above, the canoe in the colors of 2010 winner Afleet Express of Gainesway Farm. Below, a workshed at the track houses the canoes.

Above and below:  An old-fashioned changes board in the infield is still used for scratches and jockey changes before every race. Below, Melvin White makes changes to the board last year before hoisting it.

Above and below:  The grave of Go for Wand is near a flag pole just past the finish line she crossed first twice in her career. The yellow and purple flowers by the grave are the colors of Jane duPont Lunger’s Christiana Stable, which raced Go for Wand.

The base of a fountain that sits in front of the clubhouse entrance on the Nelson Avenue end of the track. The fountain is surrounded by lawn jockeys painted in the colors of the previous year’s Grade 1 winners.

Above and below: Behind the grandstand, a vase with flowers rests atop a stepping stone that was once used by track patrons who exited and entered horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century.

Above: Just across from the track, a kitchen at Horse Haven serves horsemen breakfast.

Above: Children hoping to get riders’ autographs often wait after races by the jockey lane, which leads to the jockeys’ room.

Above: Decorative ironwork below the clubhouse roof with the initials “SA” for Saratoga Assoociation, which predated the New York Racing Association. 

Above: Grazing horses alongside a grandstand stairway. 

Above: Wooden horse heads peer out at horses entering the track alongside the clubhouse.