By ALLAN CARTER, Historian, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
Saratoga Race Course enjoyed a period of great prosperity in the 1920s. A record number of spectators thronged to the track, and the Saratoga Association stimulated this popularity by adding more trees, flowers, and shrubbery, and creating a new lake in the infield.
Future Hall of Famers Man o’ War and Sir Barton established themselves as the two best horses in the country in 1920 at the Spa. The 3-year-old Man o’ War, who earlier in the year won the Preakness and Belmont, won the Miller and Travers. Sir Barton, meanwhile, a 4-year-old who became racing’s first Triple Crown winner the year before, won the Saratoga Handicap and Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap in 1920.
Another star on the Saratoga scene was the popular gelding Exterminator. The future Hall of Famer took the Saratoga Cup in 1920, and In 1921 and 1922 he took over as the star of Saratoga, winning the 1921 Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap, and a second Saratoga Cup in a walkover. In 1922, Exterminator, known as “Old Bones” to his many fans, ended his career at Saratoga by winning his third straight Saratoga Cup of the decade, and fourth overall.
After several upgrades had been made to the track, there was an increase in attendance during this decade. In 1927, to better serve the increase of crowds, the Saratoga Association hired LaFarge, Warren and Clark to design a new clubhouse. In 1928, the existing Clubhouse was demolished and replaced with a new, larger clubhouse, the one that people see today. The three-story Clubhouse provided better views of the track, improved kitchen and bathroom facilities, and direct access to the Grandstand.
Although there were no other outstanding horses to star at the Spa for the remaining years of the Roaring Twenties, in 1929 a pair of 2-year-olds were warming up for their appearance in the historic 1930 Travers, future Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox and the horse that would be his nemesis, Jim Dandy.
The final year of the decade also saw the deaths of a number of people who had figured prominently in Saratoga’s history: Hall of Fame trainers James Rowe, Sr., Sam Hildreth, and John Madden; Mars Cassidy, who was instrumental in popularizing the starting gate; and Richard T. Wilson, who had encouraged William C. Whitney to buy the moribund Saratoga Race Course from Gottfried Walbaum, and later served as its president.