07/30/2013 4:45PM

'150 Years of Racing in Saratoga': Unexpected tales of the Spa


150 Years of Racing in Saratoga: Little-Known Stories and Facts from America’s Most Historic Racing City
By Allan Carter and Mike Kane
The History Press
Soft cover, 144 pages. $19.99

Saratoga Race Course has conducted its very special brand of sport for a century and a half now, making it the longest (more or less) continuously operating track in North America. Epic stories have unfolded there: Upset’s 1919 defeat of Man o’ War; Jim Dandy’s 100-1 Travers romp in 1930; Jaipur and Ridan’s frantic wire-to-wire duel in the 1962 Travers; Onion’s thumping of Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney. But there has been far more to those 150 years than bold-faced headlines, and Mike Kane and Allan Carter have made sure we know that.

Kane and Carter have co-authored “150 Years of Racing in Saratoga: Little-Known Stories and Facts from America’s Most Historic Racing City,” recently published to coincide with the venerable track’s sesquicentennial celebration this summer. As the subtitle promises, the book consists of unexpected tales regarding Saratoga people, horses, and happenings − things that even certain racing historians had no previous clue about.

Kane and Carter are uniquely well-equipped to guide readers down this curious road less traveled. Kane is a five-time Red Smith Award-winning turf writer and former communications officer at the National Museum of Racing at Saratoga Springs. Carter has been official historian at that august organization for the past nine years.

“150 Years of Racing in Saratoga” is a compact volume peppered throughout with historical black-and-white photos and illustrations, mostly from the archives of Saratoga’s National Museum and the Keeneland Library in Kentucky. A center section largely comprises  Kane’s own quite wonderful modern-era color photos. The text opens with a piece on Saratoga Race Course firsts, with brief write-ups about the first track announcer (Bryan Field): first leading female trainer (Linda Rice, 2009), the first jock to ride four winners in a day (James McLaughlin, 1883), five in a day (Angel Cordero Jr., 1968), six in a day (John Velazquez, 2001).

One chapter is devoted to Whichone, a famous horse in his day, but who broke down in Jim Dandy’s 1930 Travers shocker and thereafter faded from memory. Another introduces us to Molly Brant, a tiny but gutsy filly who owned the hearts of local fans early in the 20th century. And yet another pulls back the seedy veil on Gottfried Walbaum, a career gambler of questionable ethics whose 1892-1900 ownership of Saratoga Race Course provided some historic lowlights for the Spa track.

There’s a segment on the defunct Flash Stakes, long ago a supremely important juvenile event won by at least a dozen future Hall of Famers. Another segment tells how the Hopeful and the (also defunct) Saratoga Cup were once far more important and valuable races than the now transcendent Travers.

On every page, a tantalizing tidbit you probably could live without. But why would you want to?