After 159 years, Saratoga Race Course has not changed in one important respect: It is a brief escape from societal turmoil and the concerns of everyday living.

The inaugural flat-racing meet at Saratoga Race Course in early August 1863 came in the wake of the most violent July in U. S. history, when the country was split north vs. south. On the first three days of July, the Union and Confederate Armies had clashed in the Battle of Gettysburg, named for the Pennsylvania town where the epic struggle took place.  Between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties were incurred, or the equivalent of about a third of the troops engaged.  Then, draft riots broke out in New York City from July 11 to July 16, leaving 663 people dead.

Only weeks later in upstate New York, on the third of August, bare-knuckles boxing champion, gambler, politician, and entrepreneur John “Old Smoke” Morrisey launched Thoroughbred racing on a track for trotters. One can imagine how the 1863 race meet was a welcome if temporary respite for attendees in a country consumed by strife and bloodshed. 

Today, Americans are experiencing extraordinary political discord, recurring gun homicides, inflation rates not seen in decades, merchandise shortages, unfettered illegal immigration, and Covid fatigue—creating a sense that things have spiraled out of control, albeit not close to the horrors and deprivations Americans of 1863 endured.  But, as in 1863, Saratoga Race Course remains a sanctuary of sorts, where people of vastly varied backgrounds and viewpoints can gather and enjoy life away from the real world, at least for half a day or so.  It’s a place where differences of opinion benignly focus on horse racing and are reflected on the tote board. 

Saratoga Race Course, aka “the Spa,” is the oldest continually operating racetrack in the United States. From July 13 through Labor Day 2022, Saratoga offers horse racing at its best, five days a week.

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