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Steeped in History: Saratoga Springs

The famed sportswriter Red Smith once gave his readers directions from New York City to Saratoga Springs.  It was simple, he wrote.  Just “drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years.”

Indeed, the timbered trusses and slate roof pre-date the modern concrete, steel, and glass structures so common today.  Turning 150 years old this year, visiting Saratoga is truly to take a step back in time.  Most of the other stadiums built in that era long ago succumbed to fires and wrecking balls.  When New York racing authorities began updating and rebuilding stadiums around the state in the 1950s and 60s, writer Joe Palmer warned them to leave Saratoga alone, saying, “Any man who would change it would stir champagne.”

As Carter Wilkie of The New York Times writes in his piece, “At Saratoga, a Step Back in Time,” “Saratoga’s mystique sets it apart from modernized racetracks that have lost their soul — and their crowds.”  Known as the “graveyard of champions,” Saratoga played host to the legendary Man O’ War’s only loss in 21 career starts to a horse named Upset.  And after winning the Triple Crown in 1973, Secretariat lost the Whitney Stakes here by a length.

This year, the New York Racing Association announced plans for a series of renovations at Saratoga.  While some of the renovations will be geared toward restoring original features of the track, others may focus on expanding luxury suites.  Fans worry that the latter may generate additional revenues but at the expense of Saratoga’s charm.  For now, though, visitors can experience Saratoga as it has been for 150 years.  Only after visiting will you understand why Joe Palmer wrote, “For the casual racegoer, Saratoga is about the only place in the East where he can see racing.  Elsewhere he merely sees races, which isn’t the same thing at all.”

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