A dynasty walks away

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“Were they a big racing dynasty?”

Forgive Eoin Harty.

The Irishman, who hails from a decent racing dynasty himself, had just picked off the Sanford Stakes with Darley’s Desert Party.

Harty had accepted the Sanford trophy from Louis Hildebrandt, former contract rider for the Sanford family. Harty enjoyed a glass of champagne in the trustees’ room while watching replays of Desert Party’s Sanford victory and he was inquisitive about the man he met in the winner’s circle and about the race’s name.

OK, he didn’t know, but he wanted to know.

“They were as big as it gets,” Harty should have been told. “Stephen Sanford began it over 100 years ago, putting together about 1,000 acres in Amsterdam. The Kentucky Derby to the English Grand National, they did it all. The blood of the Sanford horses ran through Raise A Native, Discovery, Native Dancer and yeah all the way to Big Brown and Curlin. They had an unbelievable training and breeding operation. You think Greentree/Stonerside/Darley is nice, this would rival it. The barns were architectural gems. The grounds immaculate. The facilities left no horsemen wanting. Every summer, they would walk their horses from Amsterdam to Saratoga for the meet.”

Yes, walk.

Mapquest – now there’s dichotomy – calls it 28 miles. Hey, we move mountains to get to Saratoga.

L. F. “Sam” Hildebrandt (son of Louis Hildebrandt) works tirelessly to try and preserve what is left of the Sanford Stud Farm.

The Friends of the Sanford Stud Farm, a not-for-profit organization, struggles to try and keep the legacy intact. Hildebrandt wants to publish a book of photographs detailing the robust history of the farm. Money’s tight, but maybe it would help. He’s a dreamer.

He sent a recent e-mail about a coach ride from Amsterdam to Saratoga on Sanford Day, in commemoration of the walk, anything to try and raise awareness – and most importantly – money for his cause. Hildebrandt should have been in the trustees’ room, he could have educated an Irishman about the farm, the horses, his dad, the Sanfords, the walk, the big racing dynasty. Instead his e-mail about the walk from Amsterdam to Saratoga will have to do.  

Just imagine . . . arising at 2:00 in the morning and going for a walk. A walk that would start in Amsterdam, NY. A walk that would take you through Hagaman and Top Notch (now West Galway). After stopping at Top Notch for a refreshing drink of water, your walk would continue through Galway and on to West Milton, where you might again stop for water and possibly something to eat. As the sun begins to rise, you are traveling through Factory Village and on to Geyser Road. After crossing Route 50, you pass the Bottling Plant and the Gideon Putnam Hotel. You cross Route 9 and traverse Crescent Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Next you turn left on Nelson Avenue and walk the final mile and a half to your summer home, the Sanford Complex located across the street from Saratoga Race Track. Ah, after walking 26 miles you are there . . . finally! If you were one of General Stephen Sanford’s thoroughbreds in the early 1900s, that is exactly what you did!  

They don’t walk from Amsterdam to Saratoga anymore. And the Sanfords don’t raise and train Thoroughbreds either.

Urban sprawl has encroached and blighted most of the farm. Vanished from physical reality. I visited it about three or four years ago, you don’t want to see it.

Parts of it still grab you. The cramped rooms for the workers. The built-in brush boxes. The lofts. The expansive ceilings. The feed troughs. Medicine bottles still in the cabinets. Cramped staircases. Lofts of hay. The cavernous broodmare barn, about a dozen individual stallion barns, stone monuments to ghosts gone survive. They look like ducks in a shooting gallery, wilting in the elements. It should be a park, maybe a facility for retired horses, anything. It will break your heart when you see it. It’s like Calumet Farm being divided and hacked away – a TGI Friday’s here, a Jiffy Lube there, a Wendy’s at the front. Another strip mall has stripped another legacy.

Yeah, they were a big racing dynasty.