The Story Behind Greg Montgomery’s Stunning 2020 Travers Poster (Exclusive)

My late grandfather, Van Ladd, was a lifelong Schenectadian, who graduated from Union College in 1938. According to family lore, he was able to pay for college only after his mother won big at Saratoga Race Course. I can’t help but think that that’s why he always had an affinity for the place: He particularly loved buying and framing the annual Travers Stakes posters by Saratoga artist Greg Montgomery. They probably served as a reminder of the true magic of the track. (I inherited his framed 2002 Travers poster when he passed; it sits in a place of honor just outside of my home office.)

Montgomery’s series dates back to 1986, when he was still a student at Albany’s College of Saint Rose. He’s made a poster every year since, including the one on this magazine’s cover, entitled Saratoga Coppertop, for the season during which the track will probably be closed to spectators. The posters are actually a family affair: His wife, Paula Rosenberg, takes photographs at the track the prior season; and Montgomery pieces a concept together from a menagerie of her images. The poster itself is created using the Adobe program FreeHand—and Montgomery says he draws inspiration from artistic heroes like British travel poster artist Henry George Gawthorn. “The impetus for this particular poster came during the racing season last year,” says Montgomery. “NYRA had put a year’s worth of construction and many millions of dollars into a new building at the racetrack, and we thought it would be a good idea to chronicle that in some way.” The building he’s referring to is the 1863 Club, located next to the Grandstand. 

Now, about this year’s poster image: The scene shows the literal conduit between the track’s 1863 Club and the Grandstand—“the bridge from old to new,” as Montgomery puts it. What you see unfolding on the poster is pure fiction, though, with real models. The horse making his way from the Paddock to the track is eventual 2019 Travers winner Code of Honor, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard. (The original photo the drawing is based on wasn’t taken on the path but in the Paddock.) And see the couple at the fence—the man in the cream-colored suit and the woman in the black dress? That’s Montgomery and his wife. The man in the white suit next to them? Their contractor, whose look they thought was perfect.  

Ordinarily, the Travers poster has its annual unveiling at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. But this year, you get to see it first on Saratoga Living’s cover. Hey, maybe someday this issue will be as worthy of a frame as Montgomery’s posters have always been.     

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