Soliciting help down Saratoga’s memory lane

Last week a Twitter follower asked me, in service of settling a bet, if I knew when the saddling area at Saratoga moved from under the backyard trees to its current location.

I’ve asked: Andy Serling. Nick Zito. Allen Jerkens. Marshall Cassidy. My brother. Steve Crist. And so far, folks, we’ve got about a ten-year range.

Anybody out there remember? Any fans who remember where their favorite horses were saddled? Trainers who remember where they saddled certain horses?

Even if you don’t remember the exact year, weigh in with a year that you remember horses saddled under the trees, or in the new paddock area. Together, we can solve this!


13 thoughts on “Soliciting help down Saratoga’s memory lane

  1. Interesting. I assumed that they always were saddled in the area they use now but that it was relatively recently that the area was fenced off (similarly at Keeneland). It’s been that way since at least 1990, the year of my first visit and I’m fairly sure I saw an old NYRA video on Capital OTB of Java Gold being saddled in today’s paddock.

    Colin’s Ghost linked to a website called Critical Past where I found a video of Equipoise winning in the 30’s. They didn’t show saddling but they do show the horses entering the track from the same path they do today. (Also of interest in that video is that the race was one mile out of what was called the Wilson Chute. Check it out.)

    I’d think the best source would be Edward Hotaling:

  2. Just sent my dad, Harry Snyder, an e-mail to see if he knows. If he doesn’t know, he’ll find out. Look for a message from him.

    • Thanks, Carol–that was fast! I just heard from him, and he’s added yet another crazy dimension to this story. Who would have thought that such a simple answer could be so complicated? More info to come!

  3. Alan, you expanded the possible range from 10 years to 18! Perhaps time stood still for you back there?

    Thanks, LJK–how great would it be if that chute were brought back? Mile races at Saratoga!

    I keep meaning to check Hotaling–I have the book at home and will see what it says.

  4. LJK: I believe the horses have entered the track from that same chute since racing crossed Union Avenue in 1864. The Saratoga grandstand and clubhouse, at one time two separate structures — and at one time, three, that included a segregated stand closest to the quarter pole — aligned to the dirt track at different places along the outer rail, but never closer to the Clubhouse turn than currently is the case.

    As to the desirability of a Mile Chute, the beauty of that option lies only in one’s wish for comparison shopping. Saratoga Race Course abounds in character and uniqueness. As well as lots of oak beams, glorious trees, dripping heat and the Saddling Bell, Saratoga has no Mile races on the dirt. And that is good.

    My experiences with the Wilson Chute are best described as the Impossible Challenge in that I couldn’t see the start from the Announcer Booth (neither could the Racing Form’s chart caller!). As for the jockeys and racing officials, Wilson Chute starts carried the field diagonally over the crown of the dirt course with an immediate left turn inside the first twelve seconds. By the time they all straightend for the backstretch run, half the field was liable to and for injury or inquiry. To add to the frustration, Mile races were usually over-subscribed, to boot.

    As interesting an addition to the wagering menu as Mile-on-the-dirt at Saratoga might be, rest assured there are none now for practical reasons.

    Teresa: Can’t wait to read of Harry Snyder’s contributions.

  5. The saddling area under the elm trees was replaced by thev enclosed paddock in 1985.
    I have many memories of the saddling area. It was hopeless to even try to see such stars as Ruffian or Secretariat. It was even too crowded on the day I went to see a white New York bred named ?Clarence Stewart?. The scariest time was when a runaway horse was charging toward me. Luckily a civilian grabbed hold of him. I’m sure that incidents like that puruaded the innsurance companies to force NYRA to forego the obvious charm of the elm trees for the safety of the enclosed paddock.

  6. Marshall, thanks for the info on the chute. Sounds like a nightmare…but I still think it would be cool!

    Allan, you were next on my list to contact, and I knew you’d know. This apparently simple question has multiple layers, though, and I’ll be posting a recap of all of the information I’ve gotten over the weekend or early next week. It appears that the changes happened in stages, and while I haven’t totally identified what happened when, I’m getting a (sort of) better sense of it.

    Indeed, whenever I’ve asked about the change in the saddling area, I’ve gotten a one-word answer: Insurance.

  7. found this…1988
    The Miami Herald

    Miami Herald, The (FL)

    September 7, 1988
    Author: BILL BRAUCHER Herald Columnist
    Edition: BRWRD
    Section: BRWD N
    Page: 1BR
    Estimated printed pages: 2
    Article Text:
    Complaining about heat in South Florida is so useless that few natives bother. The climate is always with us.
    Most of us live in air-conditioning anyway, from home to car to job. People are outdoors because they want to be. God knows why.
    Coming from the tropics to Saratoga for R & R and betting action, I soon grew tired of constant whining from my annual August companions about unusually hot weather. All except the tourist from San Francisco had come from the Midwest, where the land had been baked in rainless heat for six weeks.
    They should have been used to a little inconvenience. Instead, the groaning only made matters worse. They refused to consider suggestions that weather should be dismissed as a state of mind.
    Nothing could be done to ease conditions, particularly since our quarters lacked air-conditioning. Each of four bedrooms contained a plastic fan the size of a salad plate. Placed about a foot from the face at night, the fan promoted sleep.
    TThe distance to the racetrack was only four blocks. But by the third day the walk was being compared to the Bataan Death March. Some shamelessly drove cars to lawns closer to the track. Locals turn their yards into parking lots every August, at rates that merit study by municipal parking authorities seeking revenue.
    The New York Racing Association, which runs Saratoga with minimal regard for the bettors who support the game, blamed declines in attendance and wagering this year on the heat — a handy scapegoat.
    In a fit of self-examination, the association could have mentioned the shortage of pari-mutuel clerks and incompetence of part-timers hired cheaply for the month. The combination resulted in long lines and angry bettors, notably those facing rookie clerks in the congested grandstand and backyard picnic areas.
    The association might have added that customer reluctance to indulge at concession stands could trace to prices of a beer cup ($3), a soft drink ($1.75) or a hot dog with a crackle of chips ($3.50).
    So most requiring creature comfort bring their own in coolers, which are prohibited in the grandstand and clubhouse. They watch the races on television sets scattered about the grounds, many of which work.
    The result is a mess of a vast picnic under the elms in the back yard, where horses were once saddled in plain view of the people betting on them. That was before Saratoga became a happening instead of a race meeting. Horses and riders are now confined to a circular paddock, where they may be spotted over the crowd by an NBA forward.
    UUnderstand, I’m not beefing, but merely lodging an objection. Our group learned over the years to avoid betting and traffic delays. We operate in a gravel pit hidden behind bushes beneath the clubhouse escalators. Besides, I would enjoy the racing if it were held in Chernobyl.
    Temperatures dropped the third week, which was gorgeous, and the fourth, which was rainy and chilly enough that our thermostat was activated.
    Unappreciative of the contrast, the association cited the elements and sloppy track for a last-weekend slump. (The final day, Aug. 29, included a two-horse race after scratches in a constant downpour.)
    But my attitude remained positive, helped by a daily tally of bets that resulted in a $428.75 profit.
    The modest gains were achieved mainly by betting on shippers from elsewhere against New York horses, in general overrated and over bet.
    That’s another story, which may soon be exploited if I don’t find out what’s going on around here.
    Also ran in PLM BCH
    Copyright (c) 1988 The Miami Herald
    Record Number: 8803030923

  8. Do not forget that all the ice cold spring water hand pumps were removed completely throughout all the backsides by the mid-1990’s. I approached Carmine Donofrio w/ the question “why?” ….and was told “why do you want to know?” or was it “what difference to you does it make?” or something along those unresponsive, uninformative lines. NIce. That spring water was thought to have helped the horses thrive at the short 4 wk meet, along with the unpolluted air.

  9. Ellis Park manages its version of the Wilson Chute to this day. I suspect NY could too. I know for certain it would be cooler than those portable “luxury suites”. Alas I heard Charlie in an interview saying he’d like to build a permanent luxury suite building on that spot, ugh.

    I think we could manage without the first 12 seconds of a race call. Makes me wax nostalgic for the old Keeneland meets before the PA system was installed. What year was that? 😉

    When I first visited the Spa there was only one PVC railing between the peeps and the horses. Now of course there are two. I was at the paddock one day in 2008 (2009?) when one of the Phipps first-timers got loose, jumped out of the paddock, took 4-5 strides between fences and jumped back into the paddock at the gap where the jockeys enter. If that second fence hadn’t been there, no telling how many picnickers would have been trampled.

  10. Can’t help with that one. But does anyone remember when, why, and how they were suddenly able to make a race official BEFORE all the riders had weighed out?

    And on a less significant note, why did the bugler start using a microphone? It was so much nicer without it. Always loved how it echoed through the empty grandstand…

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