By TERESA GENARO, founder of Brooklynbackstretch.com and turf writer for The Saratogian
The first decade of the 20th century represented a renaissance for Saratoga Race Course. Tarnished by the stewardship of Gottfried Walbaum as the 19th century came to a close, Saratoga was re-born as the new century dawned. “Saratoga On Verge of Boom,” read a New York Daily Tribune headline in 1901.
Purchased by a syndicate that included Williams Collins Whitney, Saratoga underwent expansion and rejuvenation under his leadership; he oversaw the introduction of many of the features that we now consider intrinsic to the track’s character. Whitney became president of the Saratoga Association in 1901, and his name is a byword for the re-development of the historic track.
During Whitney’s tenure, the track expanded to include what we now know as the Oklahoma, and the grandstand was renovated and expanded. Stephen Sanford and August Belmont II built their private stables on the track’s grounds, the latter in what is now called Clare Court. The iconic saddling shed (now housing offices and pari-mutuel windows) and backyard saddling area were constructed.
In 1901, the Travers Stakes, Saratoga’s signature race, returned, having been run only once in the previous five years. The Saratoga Special was first run in 1901, the Hopeful two years later.
Away from the track, the new century saw the opening of Kaydeross Park on Saratoga Lake, and in 1903, Lucy Scribner founded the Young Women’s Industrial Club, in part as a counterpoint to the gambling and racing of which she disapproved, so that young women could learn skills that would support them when the “summer people” went away at the end of the season.
But all was not smooth sailing. The black jockeys who had been so important to racing began to disappear from the sport as a result of racism, and anti-gambling forces gained strength through the decade. The success of Canfield’s casino led to expansion in 1902, but Edward Hotaling in They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga reported that it closed, for all intents and purposes, three years later.
The passing of the Hart-Agnew Act took place in 1908, prohibiting soliciting or recording of bets in a fixed place; two years later, racing would come to an end in New York State because of the consequences of the Act.