Timeline: 1950-1959



By MICHAEL VEITCH, author of Foundations of Fame – Nineteenth Century Racing in Saratoga Springs, and Turf Writer for The Saratogian

The 1950s was a decade at Saratoga marked by the appearance of racing immortals such as Tom Fool, Native Dancer, and Nashua, along with significant actions by the New York state legislature.

As a 2-year-old in 1951, Tom Fool captured the Sanford Stakes and Grand Union Hotel Stakes, and returned the following summer to win the Wilson Mile. He turned in one of racing’s greatest older male campaigns in 1953, going unbeaten in 10 starts and winning the New York handicap triple crown, consisting of the Metropolitan, Suburban, and Brooklyn handicaps. During this campaign he stopped at Saratoga to win the Wilson and Whitney.

Saratoga fans were also treated to Native Dancer, the great gray beaten only once in 22 starts, that loss coming in the Kentucky Derby. As a 2-year-old at the Spa in 1952 he won the Flash, Saratoga Special, Grand Union Hotel, and Hopeful. He won the Travers in 1953 and concluded his career at Saratoga with a win in the overnight Oneonta Handicap in 1954.

Nashua hit the scene in 1954, winning the Grand Union and Hopeful. As a 3-year-old in 1955, he trained at Saratoga for his famous match race with Swaps at Washington Park, which he won by 6½ lengths.

Greentree Stable’s Tom Fool, Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s Native Dancer, and Belair Stud’s Nashua are allmembers of the Hall of Fame.

In 1955, the Saratoga Association, which had owned Saratoga Race Course since 1865, sold its stock to the Greater New York Association, later known as the New York Racing Association. Gov. Averell Harriman signed legislation authorizing the creation of the Greater New York Association on April 29, 1955, following months of discussion about the reorganization of the state’s thoroughbred tracks.

A major concern of the time, that of secure racing dates for Saratoga, was resolved in 1957. The downstate tracks of Jamaica, Aqueduct, and Belmont were all enjoying immense prosperity, prompting discussion of either closing Saratoga or racing concurrently with the downstate tracks during summer. The attendance and betting at Saratoga paled in comparison to those tracks. The community of Saratoga Springs, in a bi-partisan effort along with the Chamber of Commerce, organized to prevent such a battle. Gov. Harriman signed legislation on April 23, 1957, guaranteeing 24 exclusive days of racing at Saratoga Race Course.


Saratoga Springs’ first public library opened. Building, located on the corner of Spring Street and Broadway housed over 14,000 volumes.


August 3, 1950

Oedipus, champion steeplechaser in 1950 and 1951, wins the Shillelah Steeplechase.


 August 10, 1950

Oedipus finishes fourth to The Heir in the North American Steeplechase Handicap; Elkridge finishes sixth and last.


Photo of Elkridge.

August 12, 1950

Bed o’ Roses finishes second to Lights Up in the Travers.


 August 18, 1950

Oedipus finishes second to Pontius Pilate in the Beverwyck Steeplechase Handicap; Elkridge finishes third.


August 25, 1950

Twelve-year-old Elkridge wins the Saratoga Steeplechase Handicap; Oedipus finishes third.


August 16, 1951

Elkridge finishes fourth by 130 lengths to Cherwell in the North American Steeplechase Handicap.


Photo of Elkridge.

 August 23, 1951

Oedipus wins the Beverwyck Steeplechase Handicap after finishing third to Banner Waves in the Shillelah Steeplechase.


September 1, 1951

Tom Fool, a champion at two and four who was the second horse to win the Metropolitan, Suburban and Brooklyn Handicaps, finishes second to Cousin in the Hopeful after winning the Sanford and Grand Union Hotel.


 August 7, 1952

Oedipus wins the Shillelah Steeplechase Handicap.


August 16, 1952

Tom Fool finishes third to One Count in the Travers after winning the Wilson eleven days earlier.


August 30, 1952

Native Dancer wins the Hopeful, after winning the Flash, Saratoga Special, and Grand Union Hotel. America’s first equine TV star, Native Dancer’s only loss of his career was to Dark Star in the 1953 Kentucky Derby.



Grand Union Hotel taken down. The Grand Union Hotel had suffered from the same trouble as the United States that was closed seven years earlier. When the Grand Union was demolished almost the entire block was left vacant until a strip mall was constructed in the 1960’s.


Photo circa 1952.

August 6, 1953

Oedipus finishes third to Sun Shower in the Shillelah Steeplechase Handicap.


August 8, 1953

Tom Fool wins the Whitney after winning the Wilson four days earlier.



The investigations of Senator Estes Kefauver put an end to illegal gambling in Saratoga Springs and close down the lakehouses.


 August 20, 1954

Two-time steeplechase champion Neji finishes third to Carfar in the Lovely Night Hurdles Handicap.


 August 28, 1954

Nashua, who followed a championship 2-year-old season by being named Horse of the Year in 1955 after winning eight stakes and a match race against Swaps, wins the Hopeful after winning the Grand Union Hotel one week earlier.


August 27, 1955

1956 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Needles wins the Hopeful.


The New York Racing Association (NYRA) is established and assumes control of the track


National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame moves into its permanent home on Union Ave.


 August 22, 1956

Searching wins the Diana Handicap after finishing third to Ambergris in the American Legion and fourth to Dedicate in the Whitney. Another bargain of trainer Hirsch Jacobs, who also claimed Stymie, Searching became one of the best handicap females of her generation.



One of Saratoga Springs’ most catastrophic fires occurred the morning of January 27, 1957. Caused by a furnace explosion in the Palace Recreation Hall, located on 398 Broadway, the fire destroyed 396-426 Broadway in the heart of downtown. 


 August 17, 1957

Gallant Man, who was named the best 3-year-old male champion in a crop that included Bold Ruler, Round Table and Iron Liege, wins the Travers.


1957 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 21, 1957

Searching finishes second to Pardala in the Diana Handicap after finishing sixth to 
Ricci Tavi in the American Legion five days earlier.


 August 20, 1958

Searching wins the Diana Handicap.


1958 Diana Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 22, 1959

Sword Dancer, that year’s champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year, wins the Travers.


1959 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.