Saratoga Racecourse, affectionately referred to as “The Spa”, is located in the heart of bucolic Saratoga Spring, New York, and the track has the distinction of being the third oldest in the country. The doors opened in 1863 and the track quickly developed into a summer staple – it is often even regarded as the oldest sporting venue in the country because it is much more well-known than the Pleasanton Fairgrounds and Freehold Raceway, the only tracks that are older.
Saratoga has three separate tracks – the main dirt track is a mile and an eighth and inside that are two turf courses. The Mellon Turf Course is one mile and inside that is the inner turf course which is seven furlongs.
There is also a separate training track across the street from the main track called the Oklahoma Training Track. The live racing season runs from mid-July through Labor Day weekend each year.
Saratoga Racetrack Picks
Betting on races from Saratoga Racecourse is easy and secure through one of these recommended racebooks even if you cannot make it to “The Spa” yourself.
Saratoga Racing Tips
Saratoga Racecourse is home to some of the most important and prestigious races of the year and routinely attracts the very best horses, jockeys and trainers from across the country. There are over 30 graded stakes races held at Saratoga each season and fifteen of those hold coveted Grade 1 status.
Saratoga also has one other nickname – it is regarded as the “Graveyard of Favorites” because numerous champions have tasted the sting of defeat before the iconic grandstand.
The Travers Stakes is known as the “Midsummer Derby” and is one of the most important races in the country for three-year-olds. Held at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter like the Kentucky Derby, the Travers boasts a purse of $1.25 million. Only one Triple Crown winner has gone on to win the Travers and that was Whirlaway in 1941. In 2015, American Pharoah had the lone defeat of his spectacular season when longshot Keen Ice caught him in the stretch to deny him the victory.
In 2016, Arrogate shattered the stakes record and stopped the clock in 1:59.36. The colt went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Coaching Club American Oaks
The Coaching Club American Oaks is the second leg of the Triple Tiara, the filly equivalent of the Triple Crown. The race was inaugurated in 1917 and while it was originally contested at Belmont Park, it found a permanent home at Saratoga in 2010. The Grade 1 is held at the distance of a mile and an eighth and is a Grade 1 for three-year-old fillies. The distance has varied throughout the years.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled more winners than any other trainer with seven and could still add more to that number. He won the race for the first time in 2001 with Tweedside and continued with Ashado (2004), Octave (2007), Devil May Care (2010), Princess of Sylmar (2013), Stochargingmaria (2014) and Curalina (2015). John Velazquez was aboard five of those winners and holds the record for the number of wins for a jockey in the race.
The Triple Tiara concludes at Saratoga with the Alabama Stakes which is held at the distance of a mile and a quarter with a purse of $600,000. The list of past winners of the prestigious stakes race reads as a who’s who of the great fillies in the history of the sport and includes champions Mom’s Command (1985), Go for Wand (1990), Royal Delta (2011) and Songbird (2016). Go For Wand holds the stakes record at 2:00.80.
The Whitney Stakes was run as the Whitney Handicap from the inauguration in 1928 until 2013 when it was changed to a stakes race rather than contested under handicap conditions. The Grade 1 event has varied in distance and changed from a mile and a quarter to a mile and an eighth in 1955.
Some of the best horses in the history of Thoroughbred racing have won the Whitney including champion fillies Lady’s Secret (1986) and Personal Ensign (1988). Kelso won the race three times – 1961, 1963 and 1965 and joined Discovery as the only three-time winner of the race.
The Whitney was also the site of one of the biggest upsets in horse racing history when Allen Jerkens sent out Onion to defeat the great Secretariat in 1973 and earned himself the nickname of the “Giant Killer.”
Sword Dancer Invitational
The Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes is a qualifying race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series and the winner automatically earns a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The race was inaugurated in 1975 and while it may have one of the shorter histories by comparison to some of the other major Saratoga stakes races, it still is one of the biggest races of the season. The purse is $1 million and it is run at a mile and a half on the turf.
Multiple horses have won two editions of the race including the popular gelding With Anticipation (2001, 2002) as well as the globe-trotting Flintshire (2015, 2016). While there have been numerous Breeders’ Cup champions who have won this race including Theatrical (1987), Better Talk Now (2004) and Main Sequence (2014), the biggest name to win the race may be John Henry. The Hall of Fame campaigner won the Sword Dancer Invitational in 1981, the same year he received the Eclipse Award for both Champion Older Male and Champion Turf Horse as well as Horse of the Year honors.