Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course is just one week away on Thursday, July 14! If you can’t be there in person, be there in spirit by reading up on the history of this special sporting venue and summer resort town–we’ve compiled a list of our favorite reads:
Edward Hotaling’s “They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga”
Our top recommendation is by the late Ed Hotaling, the news correspondent and native Saratogian (“I was foaled at Saratoga Hospital”) whose book provides the most extensive history of Saratoga Springs and its track. The 1995 book (Syracuse Univ. Press) can be found for sale online, and we’ve seen it in Saratoga at Lyrical Ballad Bookstore on Phila Street and at Northshire Books on Broadway; both stores have shelves dedicated to racing and Saratoga Springs titles, while Northshire also has an online store–support local independent Saratoga bookstores if you can!
“The Spa: Saratoga’s Legendary Race Course; An Architectural History of the Nation’s Oldest Sporting Venue”
Published in 2011 (Turnbury Consulting, Ltd.), this book is loaded with photographs, illustrations and maps as well as narrative about the track’s history. It was written by British authors Paul Roberts and Isabelle Taylor, who also wrote the 2013 book “Racecourse Architecture” and have contributed related articles to Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
John Morrissey Biographies: There’s no excuse for ignorance about how Saratoga Race Course came into existence when, in addition to Hotaling’s book, there’s multiple biographies dedicated to the life of the Irish-born boxer, gambler and creator of the local track, who grew up in nearby Troy. When in Saratoga, be sure to stop by Morrissey’s Lounge at the Adelphi Hotel and raise a glass in the legend’s honor–Morrissey passed away in 1878 while staying at the historic hotel on Broadway. Our book recommendations include:
“The Notorious John Morrissey: How a Bare-Knuckle Brawler Became a Congressman and Founded Saratoga Race Course” by James C. Nicholson (University Press of Kentucky, 2016)–Nicholson has written several racing books, including this year’s new title “Never Say Die: A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise of the Modern Thoroughbred Industry.”
“Bare Knuckles & Saratoga Racing: The Remarkable Life of John Morrissey” by Brien Bouyea (Arcadia/History Press, 2016)–you may recognize Bouyea’s name as the Director of Communications for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Be sure to add the museum to your Saratoga To-Do List and read about its new Hall of Fame interactive theatre in our piece for The Horsemen’s Journal here.
“The Life and Crimes of John Morrissey: Bare-Knuckle Boxing Champion, New York Gangster, Irish American Politician” by Kenneth Bridgham–this is the most recent title published in 2020 by Win by KO Productions, which focuses most on Morrissey’s boxing and political careers.
Publications from the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation: These books can be purchased online from the Foundation, which supports local architectural preservation efforts (“The Spa” can also be purchased there):
“Race Course Reflections: Ashley Haley’s Historic Saratoga Race Course” (2007)–a small book of watercolors of race track scenes; and
“Hoofing It! 8 Historic Walking Tours” (2005)–tours include Congress Park, Union Avenue and Around the Track, among others.
“Saratoga in Bloom: 150 Years of Glorious Gardens”
Wrapping up the list is Janet Loughrey’s lovely hardcover coffee table book (Down East Books, 2010), filled with vivid photographs and narrative dedicated to the gardens of Saratoga Springs–including the floral tradition at the race track–with other chapters covering Congress Park, Spa Park, Lost Gardens of Saratoga, Yaddo, Skidmore and the Grand Mansions of Saratoga.