Termed the “Graveyard of Champions,” Saratoga Race Course is located in beautiful Saratoga Springs, New York, 30 miles north of the state capital of Albany. It is one of three tracks that comprise NYRA’s yearly circuit, joining Belmont and Aqueduct. Saratoga’s summer meet traditionally commences in mid-June and ends in early September. Multiple Grade I races dot the racing calendar, and the venue is a preferred destination for top owners, trainers, jockeys and racing enthusiasts alike. The track is steeped in history, having opened in 1863.
The grounds at Saratoga have their own distinct flavor and character. As fans enter, lawn jockeys painted with the silks of stakes winners from the year before are on display. Before each race, a bell is rung by hand to call the jockeys from their quarters to the paddock. There is also ample space for picnics and fans can take a taste of water directly from a mineral spring on the premises. There is a gazebo prominently featured on the infield as well as a canoe adorned with the silk colors of the previous year’s Travers winner.
Saratoga Track History
Standardbred racing began in Saratoga Springs as early as the mid 1800s. In 1863, future congressman John Morrisey held the first thoroughbred race card on the current location of the Oklahoma Training Track. In 1864, the existing track opened into doors. Key figures in the creation were John Hunter, William R. Travers and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Saratoga has held racing annually since 1864 with very few exceptions. In 1896, no meet was held due to a high volume of tracks in the area. Anti-gambling legislation in 1911 and 1912 put a kibosh on racing for those summers. From 1943-45, racing was suspended due to World War II. Belmont Park on Long Island hosted the race meeting those summers.
In the 1960s, the grandstand was expanded, doubling the seating capacity. In 1999, Saratoga Race Course was rated as Sports Illustrated’s #10 sports venue of the 20th Century, alongside iconic American venues Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Augusta National Golf Club and Lambeau Field
Saratoga Track Configuration and Track Bias
Saratoga has a 1 1/8 mile, 9 furlong dirt race and a 1 mile, 8 furlong turf track known as the Mellon Turf Course. There is also an inner turf track which is 7 furlongs.
Known Track Bias
While daily trends occasionally supersede the norm, Saratoga isn’t known to have a pronounced track bias. Statistics reflect that horses close to the lead and coming from behind find the winner’s circle with almost the same regularity.
As the statistics from the 2018 racing season reflect, winners come from all different starting gate stalls at Saratoga, especially on the dirt. On the main track, drawing the rail—seen by some handicappers and trainers as a curse—isn’t necessarily a negative, as horses from the 1 and 2 holes combine to win 31 % of the sprints and 37% of the routes (1 mile or more). On the grass, where positioning is viewed as much more paramount, the rail wasn’t as ideal as most winners came from positions 4-6.
Saratoga Racing Season
Every summer, the top horses across America and from around the world descend upon Saratoga for a full and complete calendar of stakes races. Nearly every Breeders Cup division is represented on the stakes calendar, and many Breeders Cup champions have entered the starting gate or paraded around Saratoga’s winners circle. Because of the timing of the meet, the track cards a plethora of two-year-old races at many distances on both the dirt and turf. The centerpiece of the tracks stakes program comes in late August with the Travers, termed the “Midsummer Derby.” After they’ve competed on the Triple Crown trail, many horses point towards the Travers.
In total, 16 Grade I races are held annually at Saratoga: 4 Star Dave (3YO&up), Alabama (3YO fillies), Ballerina (Fillies and Mares 3&up), Coaching Club American Oaks (3YO fillies), Diana (older fillies), Forego (3YO&up), Hopeful (2YO), Allen Jerkens Memorial (3YO), Personal Ensign (older fillies), Spinaway (2YO fillies), Sword Dancer (4&up), Test (3YO&up) Travers (3YO), Vanderbilt (3YO&up), Whitney (3YO&up), Woodward (3&up).
267 Union Ave, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518) 584-6200
Saratoga Leading Jockeys and Trainers
An Ortiz has been at the top of the Saratoga jockey standings for the past four seasons, with Irad Oritz Jr. capturing the title on 2015 and again in 2018 and younger brother Jose Ortiz emerging victorious in 2016 and 2017. Much of the Ortiz brothers’ success can be attributed to their associations with top trainers Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher. In addition, both Irad and Jose Ortiz pick up a great deal of mounts from live horses shipping into Saratoga. Since summertime racing is chock full of stakes races from coast to coast, some prominent Saratoga jockeys miss time at the Spa to travel elsewhere to ride. Indicative of just how prestigious the Saratoga riding title is, Irad Ortiz claimed the Eclipse Award for top jockey nationally in 2018, due in large part to his performance at the Spa.
Trainer Chad Brown grew up in New York’s Capital Region and points many of his star horses to the Saratoga Meet. In 2018, the Cornell graduate claimed the Saratoga training title in a landslide, marking the second time in three years he’s taken home the honor. His 46 wins were a single-season record as well. Nearly every top trainer has a string at Saratoga, and unlike other meets where an assistant is dispatched to oversee the proceeding, big name trainers are ever present both in the mornings and afternoons at Saratoga. Because of the prestige that comes with a winner’s circle appearance at Saratoga, many owners and trainers drop their horses in condition in an attempt to have their picture taken.
|Jockey||Races||Win Rate||Place Rate||Show Rate|
|Velazquez John R||141||26.95%||37.59%||50.35%|
|Ortiz Jr Irad||302||19.21%||32.78%||53.31%|
|Santana Jr Ricardo||80||13.75%||35.00%||55.00%|
|Trainer||Races||Win Rate||Place Rate||Show Rate|
|Ward Wesley A||44||47.73%||47.73%||81.82%|
|Bauer Philip A||31||45.16%||45.16%||45.16%|
|Asmussen Steven M||49||36.73%||71.43%||85.71%|
|Pletcher Todd A||99||35.35%||35.35%||55.56%|
|Brown Chad C||219||29.22%||36.99%||53.88%|
|Terranova John P||24||29.17%||29.17%||62.50%|
|McGaughey Claude R||46||26.09%||45.65%||63.04%|