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Saratoga Race Course

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Saratoga Race Course

Saratoga Race course

On July 27, 1783, George Washington and his men stood over a bubbling hole, that hole was releasing water that to them was salty and smelled as if it had a high sulfur content. This water would be known as Saratoga mineral water. Saratoga residents baked spring water bread for Washington and his men, with out adding any salt or yeast and yet within a matter of minutes the bread rose. George Washington was considered to be Saratoga’s first visitor or tourist on that day. Almost fifty years before Washington came to this watering hole the Mohawk Indians used the local waters as a cleanser, for medicinal purposes and for drinking (Hotaling 1). George never did buy the land of Saratoga Springs that he had wanted so bad. George was having trouble with real estate deals; he was actually going to buy Saratoga Springs. George had said that Saratoga was the turning point of the revolution. George also new that Saratoga had great mineral water that could lead to industry. George enjoyed Saratoga’s environment, people gambling and playing billiard, while women road through on horses (Hotaling, 2-3).

Almost one hundred years later the birth of Saratoga racing had begun. In 1863, during the middle of the civil war, the Saratoga association was formed. The Saratoga association was a continuation of Saratoga attractions such as boxing, gambling, and what brought people to famous Saratoga in the first place, its water. In 1863, a racing meet for thoroughbreds marked the beginning of "the oldest race track in America."(Longrigg, 222-223) The race course bears the additional distinction of being the oldest sports facility in the country. With the exception of 1911 and 1912, when the track closed in response to gambling reforms, and 1943-45, when meets were cancelled due to World War II, the track has continued to operate and grow in popularity. Attendance at the famous Travers Day race has been known to double the city's population.

Health and Horses are the foundation of Saratoga's History. Without the springs, settlers might easily have passed the region. Mineral water, for drinking and bathing, a European tradition for the health conscious, was the force for the development of the city. The arrival of the railroad in 1831 was a huge boost in tourism.

The summer season at Saratoga offered diversions as well: hot air balloon ascensions, hops, balls, Indian encampments, and afternoon carriage rides down Broadway where people and horses were decorated in the latest finery. The wide porches on the huge hotels were also part of the social scene, a place for the influential to meet and mingle. Many business deals were sealed during an afternoon meeting there. Excursions to Saratoga Lake were popular; lakeside strolls, steamboat rides, or regattas were often followed by fine dining at a lake house restaurant overlooking the water. Legend has it that during one such feast at Moon's Lake House, the potato chip was created in 1853(Hotaling, 36-37).

As early as 1847, when a meet for trotters was held on land adjacent to Union Avenue in conjunction with the New York State Fair, horses, racing and wagering have been a winning combination in Saratoga. A dirt track, the present day Oklahoma Track, was built on East Avenue near the intersection of Union Avenue. The simple board and batten stables, built to house thoroughbreds and their grooms during the meet, are still in use today. There was also a small grandstand, but many spectators chose to view the races from their elegant open carriages. Then as now, a day at the races was as much about seeing and being seen as it was about the winner's circle.

Inspired by the growing interest in the sport, a group of private investors formed the Saratoga Racing Association. The four day meet was extended, and in 1864 a larger track was built on the opposite side of Union Avenue, the site of the current Saratoga Race Track. By the turn of the century it was firmly established as the showplace it is today (Longigg, 223)

Like the ambience of the elegant hotels, Saratoga Race Track attracted those with money to spend frivolously. John Morrissey's Club House, the current Casino building and museum in Congress Park, opened in 1870. Following an afternoon at the race track, millionaires gathered to gamble for high stakes, surrounded by high Victorian elegance. Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell, Lily Langtry, and Bet-A-Million Gates were among those who added glamour to the Saratoga scene.

Living in Wilton, approximately ten minutes from down town Saratoga, I am privileged to witness the Saratoga race course every year. While driving I pass the race course at least once a week. In the off-season the racecourse looks like a ghost town. Saratoga’s hustle and bustle significantly dies down when the six weeks of

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