Timeline: 1930-1939

 

1930-1939

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

While the country’s economy was devastated by the Great Depression and an estimated four million were out of work nationwide, Saratoga Race Course continued to thrive in the 1930s. People flocked to the track in record numbers and witnessed some of the most memorable events in the history of thoroughbred racing.

The decade at the Spa began with one of the greatest upsets in racing annals. Gallant Fox, America’s second Triple Crown winner and the sport’s biggest star since Man o’ War a decade earlier, arrived at Saratoga a month prior to the 1930 Travers and was the talk of the town leading up to the Midsummer Derby.

New York Gov. and future U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the estimated 50,000 in attendance on Aug. 16, 1930 for the Travers. Saratoga already had a long history of upsets, but this was the race that cemented the Spa’s reputation as the “graveyard of favorites.”

On a muddy track, the unheralded Jim Dandy pulled off the grandest Travers shocker, defeating Gallant Fox by eight lengths at 100-1 odds. It was the only victory in 20 starts for Jim Dandy that year. For Gallant Fox, it was the single blemish among his 10 starts in 1930. He came back two weeks after the Travers to win the Saratoga Cup and became the first horse in the world to eclipse $300,000 in earnings for a single year. 

Other equine heroes of the decade included a brilliant son of Man o’ War, 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, a future Hall of Famer who won the Whitney, Saratoga Cup, Saratoga Handicap, and Wilson. Another eventual Hall of Famer, Discovery, also flourished at the Spa, becoming the only horse to win the Whitney three consecutive years (1934-36). The legendary Seabiscuit also appeared at Saratoga, but the Biscuit was not yet the icon he would become. He won only the Mohawk Claiming Stakes in four starts at Saratoga.

The horses weren’t alone in making history. Jockey Eddie Arcaro won the first of his record-tying four Travers in 1938 with Thanksgiving, while trainer Bert Mulholland saddled the first of his record five Travers winners (Hall of Famer Eight Thirty) the following year. Both Arcaro and Mulholland earned their way into the Hall of Fame.

Off the track, life was grand in Saratoga. Bucking the national trend, many businesses — especially the hotels, restaurants, and bars — were thriving. The gambling dens were also as popular as ever. It was the era of the gangster, as underworld crime figures such as Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky were operating some of the most prosperous gaming and entertainment venues in Saratoga. The likes of Dutch Schultz and Legs Diamond were also Saratoga regulars.

 August 9, 1930

Jolly Roger wins the North American Steeplechase Handicap; Equipoise is second to Jamestown, with whom he shared 2-year-old male championship honors, in the Saratoga Special.

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 August 16, 1930

Gallant Fox finishes second to 100-1 shot Jim Dandy in the Travers. It was the only loss that year for Gallant Fox, and the only win in twenty starts in 1930 for Jim Dandy.

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August 30, 1930

Gallant Fox wins the Saratoga Cup.

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August 22, 1931

Top Flight, a filly who won seven stakes in 1931, three against males, takes the Spinaway after winning the Saratoga Special one week earlier; Twenty Grand wins the Travers, one of seven stakes he won that year.

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 September 5, 1931

Twenty Grand wins the Saratoga Cup; Sun Beau, who retired that year with a new record for career earnings, is second. 

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 August 13, 1932

Equipoise wins the Whitney, one week after winning the Wilson. One of the best handicap horses of his generation, he was Horse of the Year in 1932 and 1933.

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 August 30, 1932

Top Flight is fourth and last to Flagstone in the Delaware Handicap after winning the Alabama.

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August 23, 1933

Cavalcade, who was five for five against Discovery on his way to the 3-year-old male championship in 1934, finishes second to First Minstrel in the Sanford after finishing fourth to Red Wagon in the United States Hotel and third to Wise Daughter in the Saratoga Sales.

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September 2, 1933

Discovery finishes third to Bazaar in the Hopeful; Equipoise wins the Saratoga Cup after winning his second Wilson.

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August 25, 1934

Discovery, another outstanding weight carrier, wins the first of his three Whitneys after winning the Kenner eleven days earlier. He also won three Brooklyn Handicaps, and took the 1935 Narragansett Special carrying 139 pounds.

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September 1, 1934

1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha finishes fourth to Psychic Bid in the Hopeful after finishing fourth to Balladier in the Saratoga Special and second to Psychic Bid in the Sanford.

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 August 24, 1935

Discovery wins the Whitney after earlier winning the Wilson and the Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap, the latter carrying 139 pounds.

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1935 

Saratoga Spa opens including The Hall of Springs, Bottling Plant, Gideon Putnam Hotel, Tennis courts, a pool and golf course. There were three bath houses one of which had been operating since 1919.

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 August 1, 1936

Discovery wins the Saratoga Handicap.

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August 3, 1936

Seabiscuit wins the Mohawk Claiming Stakes. One of the most popular horses in history, he did not become a star until he moved to the west coast.

 August 5, 1936

Discovery wins the Wilson.

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August 15, 1936

Granville wins the Travers, after winning the Kenner five days earlier.

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 August 22, 1936

Discovery wins the Whitney after winning the Saratoga Handicap and the Wilson and finishing fifth and last to Esposa in the Merchants’ and Citizens’ Handicap while carrying 143 pounds.

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August 29, 1936

Granville beats the only other horse, Discovery, in the Saratoga Cup. That was the fourth of six consecutive stakes victories that would close out his career.

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 July 25, 1938

Eight Thirty wins the Flash; Johnstown, who would win five stakes in 1939, including the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, finishes fourth.

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August 6, 1938

Eight Thirty finishes second to El Chico in the Saratoga Special, after finishing third to that same rival in the United States Hotel a week earlier. 

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August 24, 1938

Eight Thirty wins the Albany Handicap.

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 August 27, 1938

Johnstown finishes third to El Chico in the Hopeful; War Admiral, who had won the Triple Crown in 1937, wins the Saratoga Cup after previously taking the Wilson, Saratoga Handicap and the Whitney. 

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August 23, 1939

Eight Thirty wins the Whitney after winning the Wilson, Saratoga Handicap, and Travers.

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 September 2, 1939

Bimelech, a champion at two and three, wins the Hopeful after winning the Saratoga Special.

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1939

Bookmaking ends at the track.