Timeline: 1863-1869



By BRIEN BOUYEA, Communications Officer, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

The glorious tradition of the America's most prestigious thoroughbred racing meet, which renews each summer in Saratoga Springs, was the brainchild of a onetime street brawler who later became an undefeated boxing champion, legendary gambler, and influential politician.

Irish immigrant John Morrissey arrived in the Spa City with a vision of entertaining the masses with enthralling thoroughbred racing. Morrissey's dream became reality on Aug. 3, 1863 when he launched a four-day meet at the old trotting track on Union Ave., which later became known as Horse Haven.

Morrissey presided over a most successful endeavor. Twenty-four horses competed in eight races throughout the four days, and crowds in excess of 5,000 swarmed the tiny locale to watch and wager on Morrissey's meet. In the inaugural race, a 3-year-old filly named Lizzie W. – with a one-eyed jockey in the irons – defeated the colt Captain Moore. Of the eight races at the first Saratoga meet, seven of the winners were trained by the African-American conditioner Bill Bird.

Morrissey knew he had a winner – and he knew he needed to expand. Along with the wealthy and respected William Travers, Leonard Jerome, and William Hunter, Morrissey secured 125 acres of land across the street from the trotting grounds to construct Saratoga Race Course. The new track, which is now the oldest active sporting venue in the United States, opened Aug. 2, 1864. The first race was the Travers Stakes, which was won by the legendary colt Kentucky.

Saratoga quickly became one of the top thoroughbred tracks in the land, and the Spa City, which already had a long history as a resort destination, prospered tremendously as a result. The biggest star on the Saratoga oval in the early days was the future Hall of Famer Kentucky. Along with his Travers score, Kentucky added victories in the first two runnings of the prestigious Saratoga Cup during a stretch in which he won 20 consecutive races. Another of the early standouts at the Spa was Ruthless, the first filly to win the Travers (1867).

Other notable events in Saratoga's formative years include the track's first hurdle race (1864), as well as a dinner party at the United States Hotel, from which it was decided to hold a stakes race to open a new track in Maryland. That track was eventually named Pimlico, and it became the home to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the Triple Crown.

Saratoga Springs grew along with the track. During organized racing's early years at the Spa, the town also saw the Adirondack Railroad begin operations and the opening of the first public high school.

August 3, 1863

Under the direction of John Morrissey, the first organized Thoroughbred meet is held on the old Saratoga trotting course (later called Horse Haven).


August 2, 1864

The new Saratoga Race Course opens.  Kentucky wins the first race, the inaugural Travers Stakes.


August 6, 1864

The first hurdle race is held at Saratoga.

March 21, 1865

The Saratoga Racing Association was legally incorporated under the title "The Saratoga Association for the improvement of the Breed of Horses".

August 9, 1865

Kentucky wins the first Saratoga Cup.



Adirondack Railroad constructed by William H. Durant begins operation.  This line connected Saratoga Springs with North Creek opening up access to the Adirondacks.  The Leland Opera House opens in  Union Hall.  This added a venue for entertainment in what was to become the largest hotel in the world.


July 25, 1866

Kentucky wins the second Saratoga Cup, after winning the first edition the year before. After losing his first race as a 3-year-old, he won twenty straight races from 1864 through 1866.

Kentucky added victories in the first two runnings of the prestigious Saratoga Cup during a stretch in which he won 20 consecutive races. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.


Congress Hall burns to the ground.  The hotel was constructed in 1811 by Gideon Putnam, directly across the street from his Tavern and Boarding House.  The hotels destruction left a major void on Broadway.  The Mount Pleasant glass works moves to Congressville on Ballston Avenue from Town of Greenfield.  Mount Pleasant Glass works produced over one million bottles for the spring water industry in Saratoga Springs.


August 7, 1867

The filly Ruthless wins the Travers, six weeks after winning the first Belmont Stakes at Jerome Park.


August 12, 1867

Ruthless wins the Sequel.



The first public high school which was located on Lake Avenue opens in Saratoga Springs.  This is the first time secondary education was available to most students in Saratoga.


August 9, 1868

A dinner party is held at the Grand Union Hotel, from which it was decided to hold a stakes race to open a new race track in Maryland, eventually called Pimlico. The race was originally called the Dinner Party Stakes, which was soon changed to the Dixie Stakes.

1952 Grand Union Hotel from Congress Park. Photo courtesy of Saratoga Springs History Museum.


Stables for August Belmont constructed as well as a betting enclosure.


Decoration Day observed, this holiday evolved into today’s Memorial Day celebrations. The gasholder roundhouse located on Excelsior Avenue was built.  Prior to Saratoga Springs being lit by electricity, street lights and homes were illuminated by gas.  This building housed gas to be distributed through the city.


Photo circa 1998.


Saratoga Racing Association widens the track by 40 feet.


First bicycle races held.


Photo circa 1890.