Abraham Lincoln occupied the White House when Saratoga Race Course first opened in 1864. With a history like that, dating back to the days of the Civil War, horse racing at the old Spa track has a flavor all its own. Each summer, NYRA pays homage to that sacred history by conducting dozens of stakes races that recognize Saratoga’s unique legacy.
Some of the Spa legends with races named in their honor include William Travers, John Morrissey, William Woodward and Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr., while iconic racing families such as the Sanfords and Whitneys are also acknowledged on the stakes schedule. And of course, Hall of Fame racehorses such as Alydar, Curlin, Forego, Personal Ensign, Shuve and Sword Dancer have races in their honor, as do Jim Dandy, Fourstardave, Birdstone, Quick Call and Spinaway, each of whom has a chapter in Saratoga lore.
In recent years, NYRA has recognized popular Hall of Fame trainers Allen Jerkens and Jonathan Sheppard with stakes races, renaming the King’s Bishop and New York Turf Writers Cup, respectively. Both decisions made perfect sense, as Jerkens trained King’s Bishop and Sheppard won the Turf Writers Cup a whopping 15 times.
Some Saratoga standouts, however, have yet to be honored on the stakes schedule. The next time NYRA examines its Saratoga race names perhaps it will find a spot for these three legends of the Spa.
Angel Cordero, Jr.
Churchill Downs has the Pat Day Mile, and Santa Anita conducts the Eddie D Stakes (it’s named for jockey Eddie Delahoussaye). How does the “King of Saratoga” not have a stakes race in his honor at the track he ruled over? Cordero, who won 7,057 races in his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, was the leading rider at Saratoga a record 14 times, including 11 years in a row. He remains a visible presence in racing as a jockey agent and is arguably the most popular figure in Saratoga racing history. So, NYRA…How about the Angel Cordero, Jr. Stakes?
James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons
The first person to train two Triple Crown winners—Hall of Famers Gallant Fox and Omaha—Fitzsimmons earned his own Hall of Fame induction in 1958. Saratoga was a major part of his story, as he set records for the most wins in the Saratoga Cup (10) and Alabama Stakes (eight). A four-time leading trainer at Saratoga, Fitzsimmons won 13 Triple Crown races and trained seven members of the Hall of Fame. The Sunny Jim Stakes belongs at Saratoga and is long overdue.
Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Favorites,” and Upset pulled off one of the track’s biggest whoppers when he handed the mighty Man o’ War his lone career defeat in the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes. Owned by Harry Payne Whitney and trained by James Rowe, Sr., Upset went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Travers in 1920. Jim Dandy was given a Saratoga stakes race on the strength of his victory over Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers. It would be fitting for NYRA to honor Upset in the same way for his Saratoga shining moment that still resonates more than a century later—with the premiere of the Upset Stakes.