By MICHAEL VEITCH, author of Foundations of Fame—Nineteenth Century Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga Springs, and turf writer for The Saratogian
An expansion of the summer race meeting in Saratoga Springs that had been gradual in the previous decade accelerated in the 1880s. The season was 34 days in 1880, or 22 days longer than in 1870, and in 1882 it reached its 19th century peak of 40 days. The meeting gradually scaled back to 30 days by the end of the decade. On the track, the high quality of sport that marked Saratoga from the start continued.
One of the greatest campaigns in racing history was that of Luke Blackburn in 1880, when he won 22 of 24 starts. That summer at Saratoga the future Hall of Famer won the Summer Handicap, United States Hotel Stakes, Grand Union Hotel Stakes, and Kenner Stakes.
The incomparable Hindoo, another Hall of Famer, nearly duplicated Luke Blackburn the following year. In 1881, he won 18 of 20 starts. Four of them came at Saratoga: the Travers Stakes, Sequel Stakes, United States Hotel Stakes, and Kenner Stakes.
A foal of 1880, Miss Woodford, won two of America's top prizes for fillies, the Spinaway Stakes in 1882 and the Alabama Stakes in 1883. Miss Woodford, also a member of the Hall of Fame, retired in 1886 with earnings of $118,270. She was the first horse bred and raced in the United States to top the $100,000 mark in earnings.
Hanover and Emperor of Norfolk both appeared at Saratoga in 1887, and both were on their way to the Hall of Fame. Hanover, as a 3-year-old, captured the United States Hotel Stakes and later, at 5, the California Stakes and Merchants Stakes. The 2-year-old Emperor of Norfolk captured the Saratoga Stakes, Virginia Stakes, Kentucky Stakes, and Tennessee Stakes.
The great Kingston, yet another member of the Hall of Fame, was also at Saratoga during this decade, winning the Excelsior Stakes, Beverwyck Stakes, and California Stakes in 1888. He started 138 times and won a record 89 of them, finishing worse than third only four times in his career.
As the decade neared its end, developments off the track were warning signs for the future. A movement against gambling was in its early stages and gaining support among Saratogians. Monmouth Park, in New Jersey, was gaining support among wealthy owners with its high purses. And Saratoga would soon become controlled by a controversial principal owner named Gottfried Walbaum.