Saratoga Springs attracted visitors before the American Revolution when wealthy pilgrims journeyed to the carbonated mineral springs running through the area.
The two Battles of Saratoga, considered the first Colonial victory and a turning point in the Revolutionary War, ended with British Gen. John Burgoyne’s surrender on Oct. 16, 1777.
During the Civil War, several men pursued an idea that would put Saratoga Springs on the map again – a racetrack. The principal players:
William R. Travers, a lawyer that made a fortune on Wall Street, owned thoroughbreds and became ppresident of the Saratoga Racing Association.
John “Old Smoke” Morrissey, former American bare-knuckle champ, gambler and a soon-to-be lawmaker on state and national levels.
John “Dareveil Jack” Hunter, fearless horseman and reckless rider who owned horses that raced on both sides of the Atlantic.
Leonard Walter Jerome, flamboyant entrepreneur, father of Winston Churchill’s mother and another successful stock speculator known as “the King of Wall Street.” .
The inaugural meeting ran only four days in early August of 1863, but was successful beyond expectations. The next year the meeting was moved across the street to accommodate the large crowds and the facilty was enlarged.
The track was called Saratoga Race Course, home of the oldest American stakes race for 3-year-olds named for Travers. A horse co-owned by Travers and Hunter won the inaugural when the purse was $2,940: Kentucky.
The first Kentucky Derby champ to captures the Travers was Baden Baden in 1877. The first Preakness victor to score was Duke of Magenta in 1877. Ruthless, who won the inaugural Belmont Stakes in 1867, was the second filly to take the Travers.
Individual winners of all three Triple Crown events met only once in 139 years. It was 1982 when the field included Derby champ Gato Del Sol, Preakness victor Aloma’s Ruler and Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo.
However, longshot Runaway Groom triumphed. Winner of two Canadian Triple Crown contests, the son of Blushing Groom was awarded top 3-year-old honors in his country.
Some pretty fair thoroughbreds over the decades have been victorious:
Point Given, 2001 Preakness-Belmont winner; Thunder Gulch, 1995 Derby-Belmont victor; Holy Bull, 1994 Horse of the Year; Alydar, 1978 Triple Crown runner-up to Affirmed; Damascus, 1967 Preakness-Belmont winner; Native Dancer, 1953 Preakness-Belmont victor; Whirlaway; 1941 Triple Crown champ; and Man o’ War, 1930, who captured the Preakness and Belmont, but didn’t run in the Derby.
Saratoga became known as the Graveyard of Champions as such great horses in addition to Big Red fell to unheralded opponents. Man o’ War’s only loss in 21 outings came in 1919 when he lost in a sprint over a muddy surface to Upset.
Two Triple Crown winners were surprised 43 years apart at Saratoga. Secretariat lost to 4-year-old Onion by a length in his first try against older horses in the Whitney, but it was later found suffering from a viros.
The biggest shocker came in the 1930 Travers when Triple Crown champ Gallant Fox, 1-2, was a distant eight lengths behind 100-1 Jim Dandy on a muddy track.
Jim Dandy later was honored with a stakes race established in 1964, an appropriate prep for the Travers.