Saratoga Springs, NY — Late every summer the grand old dowager racetrack known as The Spa hosts people from around the world, who come to watch and wager on the best racehorses America has to offer. Saratoga is an anachronism that was founded during the U. S. Civil War yet is robustly persisting in 2011. The founders were an unlikely team: A world-champion bare knuckles Irish brawler from Troy, New York–and later Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen–joined with patricians from New York City to start what is now America’s oldest racetrack.

Come to an early morning workout at the SPA and watch the sleek equines disappear into the fog and mist and then reappear. Let your mind wander and imagine what once was and you might see the ghost of Man o’ War or Seabiscuit or Affirmed. Or observe the Octogenarian Sonny Jim Fitzsimmons sitting under the shade of a giant oak tree in the paddock, chatting with Eddie Arcaro, while his assistants prepare Nashua for a workout in preparation for his upcoming match race with Swaps in Chicago. In the afternoon, you might get a glimpse of Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell arriving to great fanfare.

Back in real time, take a stroll through the shopping section of Broadway. People are eating alfresco at the many quaint restaurants that line both sides of the street. Stop by the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore, just off the main drag on Phila Street, and thumb through used books in a former bank vault and then go further down Phila to a onetime gas station to enjoy a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Sit in the swing outside and savor your treat. Don’t miss Impressions of Saratoga on Broadway, which is a horse racing fan’s equivalent of an NFL pro shop. Ponder The Adelphi Hotel, where it looks like time has stood still. Then wander over to Congress Park, where the historic Canfield Casino is located and where kids of all ages can ride the carousel generously donated by Marylou Whitney.

Be certain to drive by the mansions on North Broadway with the lawn jockeys lining the street and painted in their owners’ stable colors. Venture out into the areas surrounding Saratoga Springs and enjoy the varied cuisine of a potpourri of fine restaurants.

The SPA does not race on Tuesdays, so take a day trip. Go to the beautiful Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing on Lake George for a fine meal or go to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. You might prefer a scenic drive to Manchester, Vermont, where you can eat at the elegant Equinox. Mary Lincoln stayed there during the Civil War. Her son Robert Todd Lincoln built his summer estate Hildene in Manchester, which is open to the public for tours. Don’t leave Manchester without taking in the outlet mall and the nearby main retail store of Orvis.

Sports columnist Red Smith wrote about the SPA: “From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years.” Red has been gone since 1982, so it is well over 100 years by now and fortunately still counting.

The SPA is old and  dressed in shabby chic, but still plenty alluring.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. I was always under the impression that the quote you attribute to Red Smith was the creation of Damon Runyon………

  2. Bill Shanklin says

    I checked multiple sources and all of them attribute the quote to Red Smith.