The early years

in Saratoga

In 1767 injured british soldier William Johnson was taken to the springs of Saratoga by his Native American friends, where the local water was said to heal his wounds.


Rumours about the qualities of the healing water spread, and Saratoga Springs grew to become a trading community. The first bath house opened in 1784, and 18 years later entrepreneur George Putnam established the town’s most prestigious hotel: Union Hall. Drinking spring water and having salu­brious baths was a trend wealthy Americans had imported from Europe, where places like Baden-Baden har become popular among the elite.

Saratoga also became a home America’s  temperance move­ment, meaning that all dance, alcohol and gambling was prohibited until 1820. In that year Saratogans and visitors alike started to use the new found freedoms in abundance!

More and more wealthy East Coasters went to Saratoga to feel good in every sense of the word in July and August, and more and more hotels where built to accommodate them. Artists and writers also learned to apprieciate the environment, and when the railroad arrived in 1831, Saratoga became easily accessible.
The local economy was booming, in­creasingly lavish houses were built, and the parties grew bigger and bigger. Ladies took baths and the men played cards.
That’s when Jon Morrisey came to town.

 In those days you boxed without gloves, and when Morrisey was in the 1853 unofficial American championship,the fight went on for 37 rounds!

John Morrisey: Fighter, entrepreneur and senator.
John Morrisey: Fighter, entrepreneur and senator.

Morrisey was an Irishman who grew up in Troy, New York, where he spent his childhood as a small-time offender. Morrisey was tough­er than most—and his skills as a fighter also took him to the boxing ring. In those days you boxed without gloves, and when Morrisey was in the 1853 unofficial American championship, the fight went on for 37 rounds! But Morrisey was more than a simple thug—he was street smart. As a teenager he learned to read and write on his own, and when the boxing career was over, he invested his winnings in stock. He was a wealthy and well known man who went into politics, and he eventually even became a senator. His political network made it possible for him to enter the gambling industry, and by the end of the 1850s, he had interests in sixteen casinos.

But he had bigger plans.

When Morrisey came to Saratoga fully loaded with roulette wheels he had his plan made up. He was to transform the small town into an American Monte Carlo. To do that you needed more than casinos—you needed something for people to do during the day. You needed a race course.

With the aid of powerful racing people from New York a racing society was formed, and on August 3, 1863 the first race was held. Eight horses had paid the $200 entry fee, but when they rode to the post only two remaind. The filly Lizzie W and colt Captain Moore was considered so good that nobody else saw any use in racing against them.
In those days every race was made up of four heats of a mile each. In 1863, when Lizzie W crossed the finish line a nose before Captain Moore in the fourth race she became the first ever winner at Saratoga.

The year after saw the first meet and the first running of the Travers Stakes, which was named after the first chairman of the new racing society, William Travers.  The Travers became the first major race in the USA, and the first running was won by Mr. Travers himself, with the horse Kentucky.

‘The interest in racing continued to grow even after the death of Morrisey in 1878, but in the 1890s things got worse and the track ran into financial difficulties. That’s when William Whitney entered the scene. Whitney was a true racing lover, who had his own stud farm and even won the English Derby with the horse Volodyovski. Whitney was also a generous man. At a party he once gave all his guests­—and the serving staff—a $100 bet each on his horse Goldsmith in an upcoming race. Goldsmith won at 6-1 and Whitney became the most loved man in Saratoga. It was Whitney who moved the track to its present location, and it his name that is attached to the second best-known race in Saratoga: the Whitney Invitational Handicap. A win in the Whitney means a guaranteed place in the Breeders’ Cup.