Few American states have a more colorful and vibrant history of horse racing than New York. With multiple race tracks, horse racing in the Empire State has been a part of New York culture for more than a century. New York race rack history is also linked to some of the most famous horses, trainers, and jockeys in the sport today.
Here is a closer look at the history of New York horse racing tracks and why they are so important to the history of American thoroughbred racing.
According to the NYRA, Belmont Park opened on May 4, 1905. The track was conceived in 1902 by August Belmont II and William C. Whitney. The men sought and found a plot of land on Long Island that they felt would be suitable for horse racing. The rest is history. Belmont Park grew to become what is arguably the most famous horse racing track in the United States.
The 650 acres of land that was purchased by Belmont and Whitney was to be modeled after some of the greatest racecourses in all of Europe. Their desire was to create a horse racing mecca, and that is exactly what they did with the property that was formerly called Foster’s Meadow.
More than 40,000 fans were in attendance on opening day at Belmont Park. These fans were able to witness the Belmont Inaugural Stakes. A horse named Blandy won the stakes at odds of 7-1, just defeating a 100-1 longshot. Blandy was owned by August Belmont.
Belmont Park continued to operate until 1963 when it was determined that structural defects made the racetrack unsafe for attendees and horsemen. A rebuild was commissioned, and in 1968 the Belmont Park that we know today opened once again to the enthusiasm of New York horse racing fans. There have been other additions to the facility as the years have passed. Upgrades included the expansion of fan seating in 2012, and the adding of HD television monitors for watching simulcast feeds from around the world.
Belmont Park is known around the world as the site of the Belmont Stakes, or the Test of the Champion. This is the third jewel in the Triple Crown racing series. It was also the track where the legendary Ruffian broke down in a match race with Foolish Pleasure. Ruffian was euthanized as a result.
If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Belmont Park today, be sure to dress appropriately. The track is one which still stresses a dress code for its clubhouse, even during the week.
Known as the Graveyard of Favorites, Saratoga Racecourse has been immortalized in song, film, and literature. Many handicappers and horse racing bettors dream of making a pilgrimage to Saratoga Springs, New York each fall for one of the most historic race meets in all of horse racing.
Saratoga race track first opened on August 3, 1863. The track was built and owned by John Hunter and William Travers. Hunter was the very first chairman of the Jockey Club. The original track was located on Union Avenue. In 1864 the very first running of the Travers Stakes was held in honor of William Travers. The race has become one of the most important affairs for three-year-old horses, and is now called the Midsummer Derby.
A main grandstand was built in 1864 to accommodate the thousands of horse racing fans that flock to Saratoga to observe the short yearly meeting. Race meetings at Saratoga generally last about six weeks. In 1911 the track was almost shuttered forever when Governor Charles Evans Hughes of New York outlawed all forms of wagering in the state. The measure was short-lived, and bettors were soon able to enjoy their Saratoga betting once again.
There are some famous horses that have been buried at Saratoga. Go for Wand was buried in the Saratoga infield after suffering a fatal injury in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Fourstardave is buried on the jogging track at Saratoga where the horse suffered a fatal heart attack.
One of the most peculiar phenomenons to occur at Saratoga each year is the presence of random thunderstorms which seemingly come out of nowhere. These storms may only last for a couple of races, but they can alter the horse racing surface. This could be why Saratoga has developed a reputation for being a track where longshots win a lot of horse races. Wins by horses at long odds is good for bettors that like to make big profits.
Aqueduct is the home of legendary stakes races like the Wood Memorial, but it is also associated with the bitter cold of New York. Aqueduct race track is the home of the major winter meeting held in New York. As such, it makes for some very interesting horse racing.
Aqueduct opened on September 27, 1894. The track got its interesting name because of its interesting location. It sat in Ozone Park beside a major water conduit which delivered water to New York City. It was not a sure thing that Aqueduct would succeed. At the time there were quite a few fledgling tracks in New York which were struggling to survive. Additionally, a winter horse racing meeting was viewed with skepticism to be sure.
Somehow, the track survived. Prominent sea captains and other men of industry contributed vast sums of money to sponsor stakes races. Attendance grew. This led to the construction of another track in September of 1959. That’s when the Aqueduct that we know today, the Big A, came into existence. It has become one of the three primary race tracks operated by the New York Racing Association.
More than 20,000 seats can be found at Aqueduct as part of sprawling complex that includes fabulous restaurants and other amenities. It is an event to visit this track which has played a major role in the careers of many famous horses and jockeys. None are more famous than Secretariat and jockey Ron Turcotte.
In 1973 Secretariat suffered a defeat in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, just a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby. The loss cast some doubt on the ability of the colt, but Secretariat would rebound to win the legendary Triple Crown. In late 1973, Secretariat returned to the track where he would be retired before 30,000 adoring fans. There have since been many other thrilling finishes in the Wood Memorial Stakes, and the race is an important prep event for the Kentucky Derby.
Finger Lakes is one of the youngest race tracks in New York. Finger Lakes race track made its debut in 1962. Since that time the track has seen more than 19 million fans pass through its gates. It is a small track compared to the major racing venues in New York, but fans still witness milestones in racing history here.
The legendary Funny Cide concluded his racing career with a win in the Wadsworth Memorial Handicap in 2007. The event was witnessed by 12,000 fans who wanted to get a close look at a former winner of the Kentucky Derby.
Why is New York Horse Racing Track So Important?
There are many reasons why the history of these New York race tracks matters to the history of American horse racing. The biggest of these is that so many important events have taken place on these tracks. There has never been a Triple Crown winner that was not crowned on a New York race track. All of them have completed the quest at Belmont Park.
So many horse racing careers have begun and ended at these race tracks. Fans have watched both triumph and tragedy play out on what may be the greatest stage of United States horse racing.
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