By Gayle Keiser
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is the place to be in late July and August when horse racing fans flock to the six-week Saratoga Race Course Meet in historic Saratoga Springs, New York. The Museum is on Union Avenue, a stones throw from the oldest Thoroughbred track in the nation which is every bit as grand as Kentuckys Churchill Downs. The Museum was incorporated in 1950, and moved to its current site in 1955, with The Hall of Fame established that same year. An addition and renovation to the museum was completed in 2000, making the museum fully handicapped accessible and adding the Peter McBean Exhibition Gallery and a Gift Shop.
Through the end of this month, the Exhibition Gallery features an exhibit entitled "Affirmed in Front" featuring unique artifacts, trophies and video highlights celebrating the 25th anniversary of Affirmed winning the Triple Crown in 1978. (An exhibition entitled "Peb: The Art of Humor," open now through December 2004, is a retrospective honoring 50 years of witty work by Thoroughbred racings leading cartoonist for the Daily Racing Form, Pierre "Peb" Bellocq. The Gallery also exhibits "The Racing Fine Art Collection," British antique oil on canvas paintings by 19th Century equestrian artists Sir A. J. Munnings, James Pollard, John Ferneley, Sr. and John F. Herring.)
At the entrance to the "Affirmed in Front" exhibition a banner quotes Alydars jockey Jorge Velasquez after the 1978 Belmont Stakes: "This is a great horse...as great as Secretariat, Native Dancer or any of the other great horses." (There are sounds of racing horses everywhere as videos replay simultaneously five different races, and showcases display newspaper headlines of Affirmeds racing victories.) A visitor gets a sense of the competition between Affirmed and Alydar from the displays of fan letters and good luck trinkets sent to each horse and a homemade satin quilt showing Affirmed beating Alydar by a head.
As two-year olds they competed in six races, and Affirmed won four. As a three year old, Affirmed won 8 consecutive races, including the Triple Crown. With Steve Cauthen as jockey, Affirmed beat Alydar by one and one-half lengths in the Kentucky Derby, by a neck in the Preakness and by a head in the Belmont Stakes. Affirmed at four, with jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., won seven of nine races, set a track record in the Santa Anita Handicap, beat Belmont winner Coastal in the Woodward, and defeated champion Spectacular Bid in the Jockey Club Gold Cup to win races on both East and West coasts during his career. Owned and bred by Louis Wolfsons Harbor View Farm in Florida, Affirmed was named Horse of the Year in 1978 and 1979, and became the first $2 million purse winner in Thoroughbred racing. Affirmed was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, the first year he was eligible for nomination. At stud, he sired 12 champions before his death in 2001.
In the Bronze Gallery, the Museum hosts bronze sculptures and racing trophies including the Breeders Cup which rests on a 3000 pound marble base with a bronze statue of a horse standing over 7 feet tall, and the Silver Chamblet Memorial Steeplechase Cup measuring over two feet in diameter. Since 1988, a bronze statue of triple-crown winner Secretariat by renowned artist John Skeaping stands in the Museum courtyard.
Registration of Thoroughbreds began in England in 1793, documenting the foaling date and pedigrees of race horses. The Stud Book, kept by The Jockey Club, demonstrates the lineage of all Thoroughbreds can be traced back to just 3 Arab Stallions. The sire-lines of Northern Dancer, Bold Ruler and Raise a Native are most popular since the beginning of this century. Approximately 30,000 Thoroughbreds are foaled in the US annually and 100,000 worldwide each year. A computer based wall display in the Museum traces bloodlines of a dozen recent champion Thoroughbreds back to their ancestral beginnings.
The Hall of Horse Racing History recounts the first race horses coming to America on ships from England, and continuous racing throughout American history except for the Civil War years when tracks like the Metairie in New Orleans became army camps. After the Civil War, the racing center shifted away from the South as many new tracks were established in the North and horse racing was over shorter distances and dominated by dashing younger horses. By 1897, over 300 tracks operated in 29 states, the Oklahoma Territory and Washington D.C.
Another stormy period for horse racing was the early 20th Century prohibition era. Widespread religious, social and political antipathy toward Thoroughbred horse racing and gambling closed down tracks because of local political efforts, and by 1908, there were only 16 tracks left in the nation. In 1911, the only Maryland and Kentucky continued first class racing meets. In New York, a state court declared betting between individuals was legal in 1913. Off-track betting continued. In 1934, bookmaking was made officially legal again in New York. The state was one of the last to switch to pari-mutuel betting in 1940.
When the Great Depression took hold and states needed income, horse racing became a source of legal tax money by controlling pari-mutuel wagering. It was during this era that Illinois and a number of other states jumped on board. Racing was back and by 1938 it was Americas number one spectator sport.
Antique racing paraphernalia are included in the Museums Horse Racing History Gallery including an ornate silk purse which hung from a pole near the finish line in Saratoga and held a cash prize for winners. Also displayed is an English-made scales with a fine leather seat and a functioning metal arm that tips a miniature scale to equal the weight of a jockey sitting on the seat. A larger scale standing over six feet tall is a metal balance with a swing-like seat suspended on one side and a pallet for resting measured weights on the other side.
A life-sized startinggate, complete with motion-activated lighting and audio, gives a vivid impression of horses and jockeys breaking from the starting gate to the sound of clanging bells and thundering hooves. Other life-sized models show jockeys being weighed with their tack on racing day, the dressing room where jockeys dress together before the race, and horses in the stable at the Saratoga Race Course with attendants dressed in different barn colors. A mock of the betting tot board reflects odds, and an interactive media display explains how odds are determined up until the beginning of a race.
The Eclipse Gallery, named after the 18th Century race horse Eclipse who was undefeated in 18 starts, displays the annual photography winner recognized each year since 1971. The 2003 winner pictures a loose horse hurdling over its fallen jockey Patty Cooksey as track personnel attend to her after a spill at Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Kentucky. The Gallery also has displays that describe the development of horse racing internationally and the increasing role of professional women in this sport which was exclusively for men until recent years.
On August 9th, the Hall of Fame inducted its most recent members including trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey, jockey Kent Desormeaux and two Thoroughbred champions--Skip Away (contemporary male) and Flawless (contemporary female). There are now 170 Thoroughbreds, 83 jockeys and 78 trainers in the Hall of Fame. To qualify for consideration, nominees must meet criteria aimed at demonstrating they have withstood the test of time. Thoroughbreds become eligible five years after their final racing year and up to 25 years after their retirement to be considered in the "contemporary" categories. Active jockeys become eligible after 15 years as licensed jockeys, and licensed trainers are eligible after 25 years. Horses and trainers whose competitive careers ended more than 25 years ago are reviewed by a special Historic Review Committee which can make additional recommendations for inductees at the end of the summer.
This years trainer inductee, "Shug" McGaughey trained unbeaten Personal Ensign and Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer. Through May 23, 2004, McGaughey had won 1,379 races (23.5%) from 5,854 starts and earned $83,918,770. Through 2003, he won 237 stakes races including eight Breeders Cup Classics. Kent Desormeaux, the jockey to be inducted this year, posted victories twice in the Kentucky Derby on Real Quiet and Fusaichi Pegasus and the Preakness on Real Quiet. He was Americas leading rider three consecutive years, and his one year record of 598 wins still stands. In his career, he won 4,419 races (19.9%) from 22,191 mounts and earned $169,217,481.
Skip Away, this years contemporary male inductee, is owned by Mrs. Carolyn Hine and trained by her husband Sonny Hine (a 2003 inductee into the Hall of Fame). He was horse of the year at five in 1998, and he earned $9,616,360 in his racing career. He won 18 of 38 races including two Jockey Club Gold Cup Races and victory in the 1997 Breeders Cup Classic. Bred in Florida and purchased by Hine as a two-year-old for $22,500, Skip Away won in the contemporary male category over Lure and Manila. Flawless was the winner in the contemporary female category over Moms Command and Sky Beauty. She was sired by Affirmed and foaled from La Confidence. She was champion grass mare in both 1992 and 1993, and she won the Matriarch and Ramona Handicaps three years in succession. Flawless won 16 of 28 races and earned $2,572,536 in her racing career.
Each year, the Museum invites members of its Hall of Fame voting panel including active or former racing writers, broadcasters, historians and commentators to suggest names of horses, jockeys and trainers eligible and worthy of consideration. The museum staff and chairman of the Nominating Committee develop information on each suggested name and distribute the information to members of the Nominating Committee. A screening committee narrows the list to three, and the final selection is make by the whole Nominating Committee. This Committee has the option of skipping a category if they find there are not strong enough nominees for further consideration.
A room in the Museum is dedicated to The Triple Crown and its eleven winners. The Kentucky Derby, inaugurated in 1875 at Churchill Downs (Louisville, Kentucky) and run over 1 1/4 miles, is the first jewel in The Triple Crown. Two weeks after the Derby, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico (in Laurel Park, Maryland) is a shorter 1 3/16 miles contest a short difference, but enough to alter tactics for many horses. Three weeks later, the series concludes with the most grueling 1 1/2 mile sand track at Belmont Stakes (outside New York City). This race is referred to as "The Test of Champions," since numerous Triple Crown contenders have failed to stay the distance of this race. The eleven (listed below) who succeeded are among racing historys immortals.
Year Horse Owner Jockey
1919 Sir Barton Commander JKL Ross John Loftus
1930 Gallant Fox Belair Stud Earl Sande
1935 Omaha Belair Stud Willie Saunders
1937 War Admiral Glen Riddle Farm Charley Kurtsinger
1941 Whirlaway Calumet Farm Eddie Arcaro
1943 Count Fleet Mrs. John D. Hertz John Longden
1946 Assault King Ranch Warren Mehrtens
1948 Citation Calumet Farm Eddie Arcaro
1973 Secretariat Penny Chenery Ron Turcotte
1977 Seattle Slew Mrs. Karen L. Taylor Jean Cruguet
1978 Affirmed Harbor View Farm Steve Cauthen
A tour of Saratogas historic Oklahoma Training Track, adjacent to the Museum, is conducted by Museum personnel providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of magnificent Thoroughbreds in training. The Saratoga Race Course Meet begins the fourth week in July and continues through the first week in September. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is open year-around Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m. During Racing Meets, the Museum is open 9am to 5pm daily. Admission is $7, $5 for seniors and free for children under 5. For information about the Museums hours, visit their website atwww.racingmuseum.org.
Caption under the Museum picture: Front windows of the Museum display racing silks of Triple Crown winners beside banners with the horses name and year of victory.