The 5 Most Iconic Races of Saratoga Racecourse in New York

November 6, 2023

Looking back through archival footage, it’s clear to see that Saratoga Racecourse in New York has experienced its fair share of drama and upsets. Betting on the underdog is a common strategy in horse race betting.

The nearby Saratoga Casino, reviewed here, is a great place to enjoy the races while placing bets on your favorite horses. Here, we look at the five most iconic races Saratoga has ever seen, starting with the 1982 Travers, in which an unexpected winner upset each of the year’s Triple Crown winners.

1.    1982 Travers: Runaway Groom’s Triumph

In the 1982 Travers, each of America’s Triple Crown winners was in the field, and any of them was widely expected to romp home to victory. But Canadian-bred Runaway Groom was to run one of the finest races in Saratoga History to write his name into the history books.

With pre-race odds of 13-1, Runaway Groom defeated Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler, and Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo in what remains one of the biggest surprises in Travers history.

Few attending could have predicted the incredible race that Runaway Groom ran, and we haven’t seen an upset like it in the four decades since.

2.    1919 Sanford: Upset vs. Man o’ War

Man o’ War was one of American history’s most successful and cherished racehorses. A high-energy colt, Man o’ War ran to victory effortlessly in his heyday. But in his final race before becoming a stud, a lesser-known horse called Upset wrote his name into legend.

Upset had lost to Man o’ War on four separate occasions, and nobody thought the 1919 Sanford would be any different. However, in a neck-and-neck finish, Upset won by half a length to claim a career-defining victory.

It is now posited that the triumph of the horse over the legendary Man o’ War coined the term “upset” in a sporting context, though there is much debate around the myth and whether the term had previously been used before the race.

3.    1930 Travers: 100-1 Jim Dandy

While Runaway Groom’s 1982 success was one of the most surprising outcomes in relatively recent Travers events, we must go back to 1930 for one of the longest shots ever to win the race.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was among the 30,000 spectators who attended Saratoga Racecourse for the 1930 Travers, and he would have been as surprised as anyone with the outcome.

Jim Dandy, with pre-race odds of 100-1 (some say that bookmakers offered him as long as 500-1) galloped home to an eight-length victory in front of a stunned crowd.

4.    1973 Whitney: Onion vs. Secretariat

Fresh from a resounding Triple Crown victory that included a 31-length route in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat was the one to beat in the 1973 Whitney at Saratoga. He was priced at 1-10; such was his profile at the time.

Rumors suggest that Secretariat awoke on the day of the race with a fever, and it was to show as a sprinter named Onion took the lead early in the race and never looked back.

Onion remained in front for the entire race and won by a length. Secretariat could only manage second place in a race that he was the stick-on favorite.

While it wasn’t as surprising as Upset or Runaway Groom’s wins, it was another unforeseen turn of events at Saratoga.

5.    1967 Travers: Damascus wins by 22 lengths.

The midsummer derby in 1967 was one of the most memorable Travers tracks ever. Edith Bancroft’s Damascus was one of the four-strong field. Such was his prowess that he was ahead by 15 lengths at the half-mile stage.

By the end of the race, Damascus had posted a 22-length victory margin, accomplishing a track record-equalling time in the process.

1967 was the year that Damascus announced himself to the world, winning the Horse of the Year honors and showing punters what he was capable of before making it into the Racing Hall of Fame, earning his place as one of the finest racers of all time.

The verdict

New York’s Saratoga Racecourse is one of America’s most iconic venues, playing host to a series of races that attract betting interest worldwide.

New York is home to legendary trainer Bill Mott who recently celebrated winning his third championship race at The Breeders’ Cup this year. As these five legendary races go to show, Saratoga is always big on drama, and there’s no doubt that many more horses will make their name.

Photo: Coglianese Photo, NYRA

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