Saratoga Racetrack at 150: Upsets, Drama, and a Gal Named Rachel


Greetings to my readers. I hope you are enjoying the dog days of summer.

The NBA and NHL have awarded their respective championships. Major League Baseball just had their All Star Game, and is in full swing. NFL Training Camps are about to open momentarily, and the pre-season will be upon us soon.

[adinserter block=”1″]That being said, beingthe Thoroughbred racing lover that I am, I will be writing a blog about the “Summer Season” for racing, at least in the Northeast.

Before I continue, there IS a great track near San Diego, CA, named Del Mar, which also features great Summer racing, but that track is not the subject of this blog.

The track in the Northeast that I will be discussing, which from July 19-September 2, 2013, will be celebrating it’s 150th Season is the legendary Saratoga Race Course, in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Saratoga Race Course, also known as “the Spa,” due to its vicinity to the “Springs,” is the oldest track in the U.S., and is considered to be the oldest sporting venue of any sort in the country as well.

The first time that Saratoga was used as a Thoroughbred racetrack was August 3, 1863, but Standardbred (trotters and pacers) racing was run at this venue as early as 1847.

Racing meets at Saratoga racetrack originally lasted four days, but were eventually lengthened to the four to five weeks that we are accustomed to, at present.

Saratoga racetrack (from here on in, the track will be known as “Saratoga”)is known for hosting several famous stakes such as the Alabama (3YO Fillies), The Whitney Handicap, the Woodward Stakes (formerly held at Belmont Park), and most famously, the Travers Stakes for 3YOs, known as “The Midsummer Derby.”

Saratoga has so much history behind it. So many great racing stories have been “told,” so to speak by those great horses who have run on that track.

I have been to Saratoga one time. It was for the 1997 Travers Stakes. I drove up from Edison, NJ, where I was living at the time. It was breathtaking. I thought Belmont and Monmouth were gorgeous. Don’t get me wrong, those two tracks are stunning.

However, Saratoga was amazing. I was looking at that track and thinking about all that history, and who ran on that dirt and turf. Horses like Man O’War, Affirmed, Alydar, Jaipur, and so and and so forth.

Saratoga is a track that I highly recommend to racing fans.

That being said, I will be discussing what I think makes Saratoga so wonderful, the racing.

What I will be specifically going over are aspects of this historic track that have made this track very unique.

I will be concentrating on upsets, drama, and a great filly named Rachel Alexandra.

I hope you will enjoy this blog, so here we go.

I will provide video if possible.


Saratoga race track has a well earned nick name, “The Graveyard of Champions,” or “The Graveyard of Favorites.” The reason is because many champion horse has lost major races at Saratoga.

I am not going to list every single upset, but I am going to discuss some of the major ones.

August 13, 1919- Sanford Memorial: Upset Defeats Man O’ War

The previously unbeaten Man O’War, due to an inexperienced starter (back in those days, they didn’t have starting gates) who had a hard time controlling the temperamental horse, got far behind the field once the race started.

Man O’ War eventually caught up to the leader, Upset, whom Man O’War had beaten six times previously, but missed the win by a neck.

Man O’War never lost another race since, and retired with a 19 and 20 record in 1920.


August 16, 1930- Travers Stakes: Jim Dandy defeats Gallant Fox.

Gallant Fox, who had just completed the 1930 Triple Crown, was the heavy favorite in a four horse field. He gets into a speed duel with WhichOne on a muddy track. WhichOne suffers a bowed tendon during the race, and can’t keep up with the pace. WhichOne drops out of the duel.

A 100-1 shot named Jim Dandy, who loves the mud, takes advantage of the tired “Fox,” and pulls one of the biggest upsets in racing history. He goes on to win by five lengths.


August 4, 1973- The Whitney Stakes: Onion defeats Secretariat.

The two previous upsets are definite shockers. This race is a stunner.

The “Giant Killer” Alan Jerkins trained Onion, ridden brilliantly by Jacinto Vasquez, is taken to the lead. Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, winds up riding his horse on the inside, which was not the greatest part of the track.

At the 1/16th pole, the two horses battle, but it is not much of one, and Onion holds on for the win.

Leading up to the race, Secretariat was not working out well. In the starting gate, he hit his head, and was also under the weather. He spiked a fever the morning of the race, and the fever lingered for several days after the race.

Honestly, I don’t think he should have ran. I don’t care if there was a lot of pressure or not. The horse’s health should be paramount, even if the horse is Secretariat.



Sure, all of racing has drama. All sports have drama.

Drama is no stranger to Saratoga, and here are a few dramatic moments.

August 18, 1962- Jaipur out duels Ridan in the 1962 Travers.

This race, even though there were 5 others in the field, became a match race between Jaipur(trained by Bert Mulholland, and ridden by the great Bill Shoemaker) and Ridan(trained by Le Roy Jolley and ridden by Manuel Ycaza).

From the start to the finish, the two horses, who were going for year-end honors, knocked heads the entire 1 1/4 mile distance.

The video says it all. What a great race.

August 19, 1978- Alydar wins the 1978 Travers via DQ over Affirmed.

During 1977 and 1978,prior to meeting in the Travers, Affirmed and Alydar had met 9 times. Affirmed had won 7 of the 9 races, including all three Triple Crown races in 1978. Alydar had won just 2.

There was a record crowd of over 50,000 for this particular meeting. Only two other horses, Nasty and Bold, and Shake Shake Shake Shake would join the two rivals.

When the gates opened, Angel Cordero, Jr. took Shake Shake Shake to the front, and Affirmed went with him. Alydar laid off the pace a bit.

At the half mile pole, Affirmed took the lead, and Shake Shake Shake eventually caved in. Alydar came up the inside rail, and was within a neck of his rival.

In the far turn, Affirmed’s jockey, Laffit Pincay, Jr.(Steve Cauthen, Affirmed’s regular rider had a knee injury) decided to draw Affirmed closer to the rail, and when he did, it caused Alydar to lose his action, and Alydar’s jockey, Jorge Velasquez had to stand tall in the irons.

Alydar lost about 6 lengths, but when he regained his action, he did manage to get close to Affirmed in the stretch, but he could do no better than a second place finish, and lost by a length and three quarters.

Almost immediately, the Inquiry sign went up, as did the Jockey’s Objection sign. Affirmed’s number was taken down, and placed second. Alydar’s was moved to first.

The crowd was not happy.

In the aftermath, both sides made lots of accusations, and such. Laz Barrera, Affirmed’s trainer, blamed the loss on Cordero, claiming Cordero had Shake Shake Shake float Affirmed out on purpose. Velasquez said that he thought he and Alydar were going to go down.

Being that Alydar is my all time favorite racehorse, I was pleased he was awarded the race, but I thought what Pincay did in the race was a chicken**** thing to do.

That’s my take on it.

That being said, this 10th meeting at Saratoga wound up being their final meeting.


August 20, 1994- Holly Bull wins the 1994 Travers over Concern in the Travers.

Three year old sensation Holly Bull was tested by a “rabbit” (a horse purposely sent out to set a fast pace to benefit a horse coming from behind), and continued to run hard throughout the 1 1/4 Travers.

He held off that year’s Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat, but had to survive a late-running charge by Concern, to win by a neck.

I remember watching the race, and I thought Holy Bull was going to get beat, but Mike Smith, his jockey, just kept at his mount, and “Bull’ held on.

Very exciting race.



I confess that there was a time that I had mentally checked out of racing. I still “loved” the sport, but I was not as “in love” with it as much as I used to.

When many of my favorites, such as the titans of the 70’s (Affirmed, Alydar, Seattle Slew), and the 80’s (Alysheba, Easy Goer, Sunday Silence), and into the 90’s (Strike the Gold, The Wicked North) were running, I would watch all the preparatory races, and watch racing every week.

Of course, I always followed their kids, and relatives (through the bloodlines). That was a comfort to me when these horses were retired, or have sadly passed on.

In other words, I was a total horse racing fiend. I was immersed in the sport.

[adinserter block=”2″]It was in the decade of the 2000’s when I just would watch out of obligation. I would just watch the big races, such as the Triple Crown Races. Sure, a horse like Point Given, or a Medaglia D’Oro would come by and get me excited.

I just lost my passion for some reason, until the Spring of 2009.

During the Spring of 2009, leading up to the Kentucky Oaks, I was hearing about this “Super filly,” named Rachel Alexandra. I was wondering who she was. The cynical side of me was like, “Oh. Boy. Another so called “Super Horse.”

Well, when I watched the broadcast of that 2009 Oaks, and saw her past races, I was convinced that Rachel was the “real deal.”

Her 15-20 length romp in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, with jockey Calvin Borel solidified my belief that she was the Super filly, and my love and passion for the “Sport of Kings” had returned.

Professional Wrestling great Ric Flair has a famous saying, “To be the man, you got to beat the man.”

Well, in this case, in 2009, leading up to her masterful performance in the Woodward, Rachel Alexandra was “the gal,” and in her 7 races prior, NO ONE who faced her could beat her.

Rachel had defeated colts in both the Preakness (1st filly in 85 years), and the Haskell Invitational. Rachel had devastated her competition in the aforementioned Oaks, and the Mother Goose. In 2009, Rachel had either set track records, or had come close to doing so.

This was such a masterful performance, and one of the best races in Saratoga history.

In the post parade, Rachel got very fractious by the crowd noise. There was a point where she got so upset, she through jockey Calvin Borel off. Borel got back on, and the eight horse field warmed up, and got in the gate.

Notable horses who were in the race were former Belmont winner, D’Tara, and Macho Again. These two would play a crucial role in the race.

The gates open, and Rachel Alexandra, who breaks from post position one, goes to the front. D’Tara joins her, and a speed duel develops.

The first quarter is :22 and change. The horses go down the backstretch, and Rachel finally breaks loose with the lead to herself after about the half mile pole, or so.

However, in the stretch, her lead is a length. Here comes Macho Again, who is just gobbling up ground with every stride. Rachel is digging deep for everything she has, showing all her heart, determination, and the will to win.

The horses hit the wire, and Rachel Alexandra holds on to win by a head.

This was the best race of that year, and that crowd just became unglued.

I have seen a ton of races in my 36 plus years of being a fan, and studying the sport, and that race was one of the best races I have EVER seen.

Rachel Alexandra’s historic moment at Saratoga in becoming the first female horse to win the Woodward, is a moment never to be forgotten.

As much as I enjoyed writing this blog about this wonderful racetrack, and some of the racing highlights, I hope that my readers enjoyed reading it.

Terri Bey currently blogs for about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for Terri can be found here at Facebook- and at Twitter-

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