Racing season marks the end of hibernation for the lawn jockey, the iconic cast-iron — or concrete — statue seen on lawns and patios throughout Saratoga Springs.
Ever wonder about the origins of the city’s favorite yard ornament?
Though disputable, there are a few unofficial accounts as to how the first lawn jockey came to be. The most popular of these traces the statues to the then-General George Washington. Just prior to making his famous Christmas crossing of the Delaware River, legend has it that Washington asked his young African-American groomsman to stay behind to look after his horses and mark the shore by lantern. When the soldiers crossed back, they found the young man dead, frozen, with the lantern still in his hand.
Thoroughly impressed by the young man’s sacrifice, Washington had a cast-iron statue made in his honor of a standing young man holding a lantern.
Lawn jockeys may have also played a role in the Underground Railroad, marking dangerous routes and safe houses along a slave’s journey north through the use of lanterns, or ribbons or flags tied to the ornament’s arm.
Today, the lawn jockey has become an embedded motif of horse racing in Saratoga.
Manager of Three Colleens Stable, David Stack traditionally puts his lawn jockey in front of his Saratoga Springs home before the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s important for us. I think for some of the big stables it probably doesn’t mean much, but for us, it’s part of the symbolism of the entire sport.”
As Stack has heard, it may have at one time been tradition in Saratoga Springs for a family to put their lawn jockey out in front of the house when they were in residency. Though his permanent address is in Saratoga Springs, he refrains from putting his jockey out until the Skidmore students have left for the summer.
“They can’t seem to keep their hands off of it,” he laughed.
Stack plans to run three horses this summer: Chrissy Girl, Soul Opposition and Echlauth, or “fast horse” in Gaelic.
“It’s really interesting — to me, at least — Saratoga is such a horse literate town. People recognize the silks, and when we’re running a horse people will give us a honk as they drive by as if to say ‘good luck,’ ” Stack said.
More than three feet high, Stack’s jockey dons the unique silks of his stable: five shamrocks on the front of a white jersey, gold inseam on the sleeve and a gold cap.
“In a town like Saratoga, it’s meaningful.”