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.