If this were an ordinary year, Saturday would not be Travers Day. If this were an ordinary year, hundreds of people would line up outside the gates of Saratoga Race Course in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the gates to open so that they could charge inside to snag their preferred location, settling in for a long day of racing.
If this were an ordinary year, tens of thousands of customers would stream in through the main gate at the corner of Union and East Avenues, stopping just inside to buy a program, browsing at the artisans’ tents en route to their seats.
Most of them would walk right past a big striped pole that sits smack in the middle of the walkway. It’s surrounded by benches and emblazoned with a plaque, standing about 12 feet tall.
Saratoga’s own Landon Manning, Turf editor for this paper for nearly 40 years, until he retired in the 1990s, wrote about this pole in his wonderful book The Noble Animals, published in 1973. “One of the things that make racing—both thoroughbred and standardbred—so great is that it is often an unabashedly sentimental sport,” he observed. “So the old eighth pole at the old Aqueduct track, symbolizing the spot where John P. Grier wrested the lead from Man o’War is the same eighth-pole at the new Aqueduct track today.”
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