Saratoga 150 celebration at the ready

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It’s Kentucky Derby week, but it’s another even older tradition that folks in Saratoga Springs and the surrounding communities are ready to celebrate.

Saratoga 150, a nearly five-month long event to honor the (you guessed it) 150-year anniversary of racing at Saratoga Race Course, officially gets underway Wednesday with four events in and around the community. The celebration starts with an art show, dance history exhibit, dinner and auction to benefit the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, and yes, an actual equine event with the opening of the Saratoga Springs Horse Show.

The horse show is contested at the facility next door to the area most used to call the “Jockey Y,” or Recreation Complex as it’s otherwise referred. That location is notable because it’s not far from where racing was first conducted in Saratoga Springs. The first documented races were run Aug. 3, 1863 on the old trotting track on Union Avenue in an area later and still known as Horse Haven.

The August 1863 date is noteworthy, especially so this week, because it pre-dates the Kentucky Derby by a dozen years. While racing in Louisville dates back to the late 1700s, the Kentucky Derby and its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks, were not run until May 1875.

No mention was made of that during a Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday morning at City Center downtown, but people are enthusiastic about the events associated with the Saratoga 150 celebration nonetheless.

People packed the meeting room Wednesday to hear speakers talk about the myriad events that run from Wednesday through the end of September.

In addition to the others mentioned, the events in the celebration are anchored by “Signature Saratoga 150 Events” that include a film festival where Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Saratoga (the 1937 film starting Clark Gable and Jean Harlow) will be shown, war reenactments and encampments in Congress Park, a parade and ice cream social sponsored by Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson, a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, a food and wine festival, and a $2 Bettor’s Ball at the City Center.

And oh yes, racing.

The New York Racing Association will roll out its plans to mark the 150th anniversary of Saratoga Race Course in June, but the upcoming Spa meet factors heavily into Saratoga 150. Five lucky fans will get the opportunity to place a $15,000 wager on designated stakes races during the meet, starting with the Whitney Handicap Aug. 3 through the Woodward Stakes on closing weekend.

Fans can register for the chance to wager Saratoga 150’s Five Chances To Wager $15,000 Of Someone Else’s Money contest here.

A complete list of Saratoga 150 events, information on purchasing Saratoga 150 pins, and other useful material is available here.