Header Background

Our Detailed Guide to Saratoga Race Course

Talk about a racetrack that was ahead of its time. It’s one of the oldest sporting venues in all of the United States. Saratoga Race Course is full of history, and we are here to tell you all about it.

But we’re not just going to give you a few facts about when it opened and where it is located. We are going to cover the beginning of Saratoga Race Course. From how it got started to details about the racetrack and the facilities, we are going to dive in head first. We want you to know about all the major races that are held there and will, of course, be telling you about your betting options once you do arrive.

The grounds aren’t plopped in the middle of a busy city. We want to give you some tips and advice on the best and most efficient ways to get there, depending on where you are coming from. You can essentially consider this your go-to-guide for anything and everything you could possibly want to know about Saratoga Race Course.

Bookmark this page, and you will never have to google the word “Saratoga” again!

Overview of Saratoga Race Course

Year Opened
Saratoga Springs, New York
State of New York, operated by the New York Racing Association (NYRA)
Course Type
Notable Races
Travers Stakes, Whitney Handicap, Woodward Stakes, Alabama Stakes
Official Website
Overview of Saratoga Race Course

Introducing Saratoga Race Course

In today’s day and age, we are routinely seeing stadiums and structures being torn down. For Saratoga Race Course to still be thriving some 150+ years after it was opened is a testament to how significant this place is.

Some will tell you it is the oldest standing construction for sporting events in the entire country, but it is actually the fourth oldest. Either way, you won’t find many locations that were opened in 1863 still flourishing like Saratoga Race Course is today.

The man we can thank for creating this masterpiece was John Morrissey. The first major event was the Saratoga Meet, which started out only lasting four days. Over time, this series of races has been extended to last 40 races days during and through the heat of the summer.

Betting has always been a big part of what Saratoga Race Course is all about. Parimutuel betting machines could be found and easily accessed throughout the property as early as 1940. There is plenty of money to be won on site, as Saratoga has been the site of some of the more memorable upsets witnessed in the sport of horse racing.

Man o’ War, arguably one of the fastest horses of all time, only lost one race in his entire career! It came at the 1919 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, where he was beaten by a horse whose name fittingly was Upset. The 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah came into the Travers Stake at Saratoga as an astounding 1-5 favorite, only to get beaten by Keen Ice.

Events like that are why you hear many people refer to the track as “The House of Upsets.” Another nickname you hear thrown around is “The Spa.” This is simply given because of how many mineral springs surround the property. Whatever you want to call it, the fact below remains.

Saratoga Race Course is rich in history and is as meaningful of a race course as any you will encounter.

The Racetrack Itself

Depending on who you ask, you may get different answers on the true size of the property. We have heard that the grounds of Saratoga Race Course cover as much as 430 acres, but the official website states that 350 acres is a better estimate. In either case, that is a large chunk of land and boy, have they put it to good use.

The main track is 1 1/8 miles long and is filled with compacted dirt. The course features two inner courses, which is similar to how the New York Racing Association designed their other two tracks (Belmont Park and the Aqueduct).

Inside the main track is “Mellon Turf Course,” named after Andrew and his son Paul Mellon. This course encircles the smallest turf track, which is 7/8 of a mile in length. For those of you familiar with steeplechase racing – the inside turf track is where that takes place. Steeplechase racing is a type of race in which the horses are required to avoid obstacles and hop over small fences. While this form of horse racing is less common in the USA, just head over to Saratoga Race Course if you want to check it out.

The Track Layout at Saratoga Race Course

The capacity says 50,000, but we know that more than 72,000 patrons were on hand for a race on August 11, 2007. After much chaos getting in and out of the track, the authorities decided to cap the number of attendees at 50,000 moving forward.

Despite the grandstand being 2 stories high and more than 1,300 feet long, it can only hold a certain number of spectators. When it comes to a place for the horses, they’ve got that covered. The stables can hold more than 1,800 horses, as there are 91 barns and 489 separate rooms at the facility.

Obviously, there have been upgrades and restorations to certain areas on the grounds over the years. The racetrack, however, remains fairly untouched and intact. There may be more people watching and more money on the line, but the way the Thoroughbred races are run on the dirt track today remains the same.

The Major Races at Saratoga Race Course

Just because one of the three Triple Crown events of Thoroughbred racing doesn’t take place at Saratoga Race Course doesn’t mean this place is an afterthought. There are some fairly well-known races that take place on the track in Saratoga annually. We wanted to highlight the most prominent races of the year that Saratoga is the proud host of.

For example, the 40-day Saratoga meet that runs from the end of July through Labor Day weekend showcases some of the most important days of racing of the entire year.

Let’s take a peek.

Travers Stakes

The Travers Stakes isn’t just an important race on the calendar for three-year-old horses in the US. You can argue it is on the shortlist for the most significant events every single year. Don’t believe us – just look for yourself. lists the Travers Stakes as . Only the three majors (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes) and the Breeders’ Cup rank higher in terms of significance to the sport.

If you hear someone say, “I can’t wait for the Midsummer Derby,” they are referring to the Travers Stakes. While the three “Majors” of horse racing referenced above got started between 1866-1875, the Travers Stakes dates even further back.

The president of the Saratoga Racing Association in 1864 hosted the race for the first time, and wouldn’t you know it – his horse Kentucky won the event. Fast forward to present day, and the Travers Stakes is still being run every summer at Saratoga Race Course.

The length of the race has changed several times in the early days but has been steady at 1 ¼ miles ever since 1904. It’s hard to give justice to the greatest moments on the track in a few short paragraphs, but we will do our best.

There was the betting scandal of the 1921 Travers Stakes. The betting favorite Grey Lag was removed from the race just minutes before it was supposed to start, with no clarification given as to the reason why. This led to Sporting Blood coming out on top and netting his owner, Arnold Rothstein, a massive payday.

Despite not even being one of the top two favorites, Rothstein had wagered a whopping $150,000 on his horse.

More recently, we saw history take place in the 2016 edition. Arrogate not only blitzed the field 13.5 lengths, but he also set a new record time of 1:59.36. Jockey Javier Castellano sets the pace for most Travers Stakes wins with five, including going back-to-back twice.

Due to how long the event has been run, combined with all the unforgettable moments, we can certainly justify the top-5 ranking gave the Travers Stakes.

Whitney Handicap

Also part of the 40-day extravaganza of horse races every July and August at Saratoga Race Course, the Whitney Handicap is a big-time race. Boasting an enormous $1.25 million prize-pool, this 1 1/8-mile dirt-track race, the Whitney Handicap, got started in 1928 and hasn’t missed a year since.

In its nearly 100 years of existence, two horses have managed to win the event three times. Discovery was victorious on three consecutive occasions (1934-1936), and Kelso, one of the top 5 Thoroughbreds of the 20th century according to most sources, won the race in 1961, 1963, and 1965.

One of the genuine things about this race is that not only has it been run every year since it was inaugurated, but it has taken place at Saratoga Race Course every time. When the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat came up short to Onion at the 1973 Whitney Handicap, people were sincerely shocked.

How could the most impressive horse to ever set foot on a dirt track lose the race?

This just goes to show you and everyone in the horse racing community that anything can happen, especially at Saratoga Race Course. Don’t forget; they don’t call this place the “Graveyard of Champions” and the “House of Upsets” for nothing.

Woodward Stakes

The Woodward Stakes has been a Grade-I race that every owner, trainer, and jockey have their eyes set on every single year. Wondering when this $750,000 purse event is? Stop wondering, because each and every year, the Woodward Stakes is held on the Saturday before Labor Day.

Remember that big, 40-day-long string of horse races at Saratoga every summer? Well, the Woodward Stakes is the culminating event of the more than one-month-long compilation of events. We have seen plenty of remarkable moments in the history of the race that’s named after Thoroughbred owner William Woodward.

Which ones stand out the most?

Well, Kelso won this event three years in a row from 1961-1963 and came within an inch of winning a fourth straight title in 1964. Literally an inch, as they said Gun Bow “bobbed his head” just in time to cross the finish line first. Could you imagine if a horse really won four Woodward Stakes in a row?

Stop imagining, because not much more than a decade later, it happened. After Forego set the record for the fastest time (1.45.80) in 1976 for his third consecutive Woodward Stakes victory, he showed up for the 1977 running as an older competitor – seven years old, to be exact. This hardly stopped him, as he captured the event for a record fourth straight time.

River Keen in 1999 is the only other seven-year-old horse that can stake claim to a Woodward Stakes’ Title.

Alabama Stakes

Do you appreciate that these races that have been running for 100+ years? If you are shaking your head yes, then surely you will appreciate the Alabama Stakes. The race was born in 1872 and hasn’t missed a year since 1912.

As the years have progressed, changes to the races have ensued. For example, what started out as a 1-mile race was increased to 1 1/16 miles in 1901, and then bumped up to 1 5/16 miles in 1905. Finally, in 1917, they settled on the current length of the race today – 1 ¼ miles.

We couldn’t track down the total purse of the initial event in 1872, but we can promise you it wasn’t the same $600,000 it is today. This race is designated for three-year-old fillies (female horses), so you won’t see any horse win the event twice. However, we have seen three different jockeys win the Alabama Stakes five times, and renowned owner Belair Stud had five horses win the competition.

Advice on Getting to Saratoga

Now that we have gone into detail about what goes on at Saratoga Race Course, we ought to tell you how to get there. If you are itching to make a trip but are not familiar with the area, you may want to read this section closely.

Just because Saratoga Race Course is in the state of New York, don’t head to New York City and try and jump in a Lyft or and Uber to get to the racetrack. That would take you a solid three hours and cost you a pretty penny. Believe it or not, it’s about the same distance from the track to the airport in Boston.

You are better off landing in the Albany airport in upstate New York and driving the 28 or so miles to Saratoga Springs. It’s a 140-mile straight shot east on the I-90 from Syracuse, New York, if you are coming from that direction.

While the track may not be conveniently located in the middle of an urban city, you will not be let down should you make the trip. If you end up going to Saratoga Springs, chances are you went there to watch horses race. If you were hoping to get a glimpse of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, you are in luck. It’s about a 5-7 minute walk from the racetrack.

Getting Your Bets In

Considering you are a fan of horse racing, we are going to guess you like to place a wager on the occasional race when you are watching an event. The two go hand-in-hand, and that’s why Saratoga Race Course has taken care of all your needs when it comes to placing a bet when you get there.

We understand that not everyone can hop on a flight or jump in the car and head to Saratoga Springs and catch one of their marquee races in person. Fortunately, we have some good news for you. You have PLENTY of options to place horse racing wagers online.


If you do happen to be going to a race in person and want to know what to expect when you arrive, here you go.

There are more than 700 parimutuel betting machines/kiosks conveniently scattered across the property. Finding out where to go to place a bet on who will win, place, or show won’t be an issue. They received more than $49 million in bets in a single day in 2015, so believe us when we tell you that betting on site is not a problem.

Because the Saratoga Race Course is owned by the same company that operates Belmont Park and the Aqueduct, all you need to do is sign up for an account at any of those facilities, and you are good to go. For more concentrated details on the betting process at the track at Saratoga, , and you should find most of the answers you are looking for. The hardest part is picking out which horses will perform!

Summing It All Up

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that covers most of the “juicy stuff” about Saratoga Race Course. After introducing you to the racetrack and the surrounding area, we filled you in on some of the specific details regarding the track itself. Their unique “three-track” setup with two inner turf tracks certainly makes Saratoga stand out.

We talked about the most substantial races that are held annually at Saratoga, notably the Travers Stakes and the Whitney Handicap. They may not be part of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing, but these races are hugely important to everyone in the racing community.

Another important item to discuss was how to get to the location if you want to visit and see an event up close and personal. Perhaps you want to visit The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame? Head to Saratoga Springs, because the racetrack and museum are positioned side-by-side in the small town of fewer than 30,000 people.

Finally, what’s a horse race without some wagering involved? It would be silly to go to the race course in Saratoga and not know how or where to place bets. Our segment on “Getting Your Bets In” gives you the information you are looking for when it comes time to choose your picks and make some money. Watching Thoroughbreds race is already fun. Once you start betting, the action picks up even more.

We hope this guide served its purpose and has you feeling well acquainted with the track. When it comes Saratoga Race Course, there is no shortage of excitement.