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Friday, August 17, 2012
A day at Saratoga's real Museum

By Bob Ehalt

It’s understandable how a racetrack as historic as Saratoga could be considered a museum.

Yet, the truth be told, the real museum stands about a furlong away from the 144-year-old cathedral of racing. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame can be found at 191 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, across the street from the track in terms of proximity yet directly linked to it through the way they embrace some of the sport’s greatest moments.

More than 380 of the best and brightest jockeys, horses and trainers to ever grace a racetrack are enshrined in the museum, which perpetuates the centuries of memories and accomplishments made famous by racing’s most glorious stars.

If you’re planning a trip to the Spa, the Museum is open daily during the racing season from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and for the early birds who arrive at the track a few hours before post time, it’s a great place to spend that time absorbing the full flavor of racing’s history.

Touring the Museum, you’ll see the evolution of the sport from pre-Revolutionary War days through the real-time, digital era we call ours.

After entering and strolling past a small starting gate, you’ll walk through galleries devoted to the pre- and post-Civil War eras, the 20th Century, exhibits honoring women in racing and steeplechase racing and an area for children called Horse Play.

There are dozens of shiny trophies, some more than 100 years-old, for a litany of famous races, like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and one cup that just might surpass the Stanley Cup in its width.

There are areas for Triple Crown champions as well as Eclipse Award-winning photographs that captured the sport in its full glory.

There are relics and paintings of famed individuals, bronzes of illustrious horses and even a curious-looking old device for weighing jockeys that seemed better suited for dunking someone in and out of a lake.

In the courtyard, it’s impossible to miss a replica of the statue of Secretariat that adorns the Belmont Park paddock.

The centerpiece is the Hall of Fame, which houses the nearly 400 Hall of Fame plaques, each of them, like you would find in Cooperstown, with a biography for the person and race record and bio for the Thoroughbreds. In showcases above the plaques are silks from famed owners of the past like Calumet and modern day stables such as those of New York’s Mike Repole or California’s Mike Pegram.

It’s a history book wrapped into one grand building.

As much as pari-mutuel wagers such as the Pick Six or a Rolling Daily Double are essential to racing, there still remains a delightful side to the sport that offers a different reward. There’s a color, a passion, a charm, a long-lasting thrill that comes from watching the best horses race and the most skilled individuals ply their trade with them.

This August, you can watch all of that at the racetrack and then go across the street to the Museum and celebrate how it’s happened for the past 144 years and even well beyond that.

Either way, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.