Timeline: 1970-1979

 

1970-1979

By MIKE KANE, Racing Historian and Contributing Editor for Saratoga Living magazine

Saratoga's return to prominence as one of the most important and appreciated meets in the nation took place in the 1970s.

Several key factors meshed: the Adirondack Northway was completely open from Albany to the Canadian border, making Saratoga even more accessible to fans in the metro areas, Off-Track Betting was up and running, changing racing's landscape, Sunday racing was approved and – most important – the sport was blessed with a series of breakthrough performers.

The attendance and handle figures grew dramatically, from the daily averages of 18,234 in attendance and $1,449,519 in handle in 1970, to the averages in 1979 of 21,858 and $2,473,099. During the decade, attendance climbed 19.87 percent and handle soared 70.62 percent. The increases upstate contrasted with the declines during the same period at the downstate tracks, Belmont and Aqueduct, where the arrival of OTB took a toll.

Star after star after star raced at Saratoga during what turned into a golden decade for the sport. Topping the long list of luminaries was Secretariat, who was on his way to the Horse of the Year Award as a 2-year-old in 1972. He returned the following summer as the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, drew crowds for his morning workouts and was upset by Onion in the Whitney. The Secretariat Whitney drew a track record crowd of 30,119 that watched the Allen Jerkens-trained Onion stun Secretariat, who went off a 1-10 in the wagering.

There were plenty of other standouts, equine and human:

- The great filly Ruffian, who ran her career record to 5-0 with a 12¾-length victory in the 1974 Spinaway, the day before Foolish Pleasure added to his Hall of Fame resume with a victory in a division of the Hopeful. The two met in the fateful match race at Belmont Park the following July.

- Meadow Stable's Kentucky Derby winner Riva Ridge won two of his three of his starts at the Spa for trainer Lucien Lauren. The loss on August 1, 1973 to 56-1 long shot Wichita Oil came four days before Onion beat his stablemate Secretariat.

- Forego, one of racing's all-time greats, lost both of his races at Saratoga. Carrying 136 pounds through the mud in the 1977 Whitney, he finished last of seven. The winner, Nearly on Time, was assigned 103 pounds.

- Chris Evert and Susan's Girl were winless in their Saratoga appearances, but Paul Mellon's Key to the Mint was perfect, completing the Whitney-Travers double in 1972.

- In 1976, jockey Angel Codero Jr. began his remarkable march into Saratoga history with the first of 11 consecutive riding titles. He closed the decade with his fourth title in 1979, despite missing seven days with a suspension.

- Though still in his 40s, Jerkens, cemented his reputation as one of history's great trainers by winning three consecutive Saratoga titles outright and sharing a fourth. He led the way in 1972 with 19 winners during a 24-day meet. Laz Barrera matched Jerkens with three titles and a tie for a fourth.

- Affirmed and Alydar were two of the brightest stars of the decade. They gave a preview of what lay ahead in the 1977 Hopeful, which Affirmed won by a half-length. After Affirmed edged Alydar in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown in 1978, the stage was set for a rematch in the Travers. Affirmed tuned up with a win in the Jim Dandy, Alydar beat older horses in the Whitney and then was awarded a controversial victory in the Travers in front of a record crowd of 50,359 when Affirmed was disqualified.

New York's experiment with Sunday racing included four days in 1975 at the Spa. There was no Sunday racing in Saratoga the next three summers, but it returned for good in 1979.

By the end of the final season of the 1970s, a total of 58 of the decade's champions had competed at Saratoga, there was talk of expansion in the air and America's oldest track was a summer powerhouse again.

 

 

August 24, 1970

Shuvee wins the Diana Handicap.

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1971

Off-track betting authorized.

August 2, 1971

Riva Ridge, the 1971 champion 2-year old colt and winner of the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont, wins the Flash.

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August 16, 1971

Susan's Girl, who was the top handicap filly/mare in 1973 and 1975, finishes fifth to Debby Deb in the Adirondack.

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August 23, 1971

Shuvee wins the Diana Handicap after finishing third to Protanto in the Whitney.

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Photo of Shuvee.

August 25, 1972

La Prevoyante wins the Spinaway after winning the Schuylerville twenty-three days earlier.  After winning all twelve of her races in 1972 she was named champion 2-year-old filly.

August 26, 1972

Secretariat, 1973 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year in 1972 and 1973, wins the Hopeful after winning the Sanford ten days earlier.

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Actual photo of Secretariat at Belmont.

1973

The Plan of Action was initiated to bring Saratoga Springs' downtown back through grass roots efforts.

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August 4, 1973

Secretariat finishes second to Onion in the Whitney.

August 11, 1973

Desert Vixen, who was named champion 3-year-old filly in 1973 after winning seven straight graded stakes, takes the Alabama after winning the first division of the Test ten days earlier.

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1973 Alabama Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 2, 1974

Café Prince, champion steeplechaser in 1977 and 1978, wins the Lovely Night Handicap.

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August 17, 1974

Chris Evert, a champion at two and three, finishes third to Holding Pattern in the Travers after finishing second to Quaze Quilt in the Alabama one week earlier.

 

1974 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 23, 1974

Ruffian , champion filly in 1974 and 1975 who had a perfect career record of ten for ten until her fatal breakdown during her match race against Foolish Pleasure, wins the Spinaway.

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Actual photo of Ruffian at Belmont.

1974 Spinaway Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 24, 1974

Foolish Pleasure, champion 2-year-old male of 1974 and 1975 Kentucky Derby winner, wins the second division of the Hopeful.

 

1974 Hopeful Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 2, 1975

Ancient Title, who won twenty stakes in his career ranging from six to ten furlongs, wins the Whitney Handicap.

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1975 Whitney Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

1977

Historic preservation movement formalized with the founding of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.

August 6, 1977

Forego finishes last to Nearly On Time in the Whitney. One of the most popular horses of his era, Forego won four handicap horse Eclipse awards, one Eclipse award for sprinter, and three straight Horse of the Year honors.

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1977 Whitney Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 17, 1977

Affirmed wins the Sanford. Best known for his stirring duels with Alydar, Affirmed was 1977 champion 2-year-old colt, Triple Crown winner in 1978, and Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979.

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1977 Sanford Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 25, 1977

Café Prince finishes fifth to Happy Intellectual in the New York Turf Writers' Cup.

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1977 NY Turf Writers Cup Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 27, 1977

Affirmed wins the Hopeful; Alydar finishes second.

Affirmed was Triple Crown winner in 1978, and Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Photo of Affirmed.

1977 Hopeful Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 5, 1978

Alydar wins the Whitney. He finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races in 1978, the total of his losses coming to less than two lengths.

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1978 Whitney Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 8, 1978

Affirmed wins the Jim Dandy.

Affirmed was Triple Crown winner in 1978, and Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

1978 Jim Dandy Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 19, 1978

Affirmed finishes first in the Travers, but is disqualified and placed second and Alydar is declared the winner.

Affirmed was Triple Crown winner in 1978, and Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Photo of Affirmed.

1978 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

1978

Saratoga Race Course is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Union Avenue National Register District

August 3, 1979

Café Prince wins the Lovely Night Handicap.

August 2, 1974 Café Prince wins the Lovely Night Handicap. Photo courtesy of Blood-Horse Publications.

August 18, 1979

Davona Dale, 1979 3-year-old filly champion, finishes fourth to General Assembly in the Travers after finishing second to It's In the Air in the Alabama.


1979 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 23, 1979

Café Prince finishes sixth and last to Leaping Frog in the New York Turf Writers' Cup Handicap.

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1979

Adelphi Hotel is restored. This came at a time when many structures in the city were vacant. Its restoration was an important part of turning Broadway around.

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