Saratoga Springs

Hang on to your hats! Contestants battle in 26th annual event

75 participants spread across 3 categories
Pressley Fortunato of Rockville Centre competes in the 26th annual Hat Contest at Saratoga Race Course.
Pressley Fortunato of Rockville Centre competes in the 26th annual Hat Contest at Saratoga Race Course.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Headwear big, small, simple, eccentric, stylish and bombastic dotted the grandstand Sunday for Saratoga Race Course’s 26th annual Hat Contest.

The event capped off a well-attended opening weekend in style, with winners crowned for their creativity and fashion. The contest drew about 75 participants, spread across three categories. Those seeking more basic and re-usable hats sought out free Saratoga baseball caps, which were the season’s first giveaway.

Competitors were forced to tip their hats to Julie Potter, who won the “uniquely Saratoga” portion of the contest for a fifth consecutive year.

“I just sort of wait for inspiration,” Potter said of how she keeps coming up with new ideas.

Potter, from Duanesburg, impressed judges and attendees last year with a massive hat adorned with 25 smaller hats, representing the contest’s 25th year. For her follow-up, she said, inspiration struck at the last moment — Saturday night to be exact.

She and her daughter spent about three hours piecing together an extravagant piece of headwear, complete with flowers, feathers sticking a foot up in the air and a horseshoe attached to the back that read “good luck.”

Attendees marveled and stopped to pose for photos with Potter, who said Sunday’s hat was no harder to balance than anything she’s worn in the past.

About 15 kids took part in the contest designated for those 12 and younger. The winner, Ashley Brennan, spent about four hours Saturday and Sunday morning putting together her hat. The winning design consisted of plastic horses and flowers fixed onto the brim — and old bet vouchers stuck to the body of the cap.

Perched atop it all was a diorama of the facility’s picnic area, representing her family’s struggles staking out a seat.

“We come every year, and we never find a table,” said Brennan, of Saugerties.

The runners-up were sisters Kiarra and Bailee Seymour. Kiarra’s cap was decorated with a handmade horse, while Bailee’s was focused on Saratoga’s most lucrative race. Atop her green hat were flowers, a notecard reading “Who will win the Travers this year?” and a paper canoe.

The most popular category among entrants was the “fashionably Saratoga” division, which attracted about 30 contestants. For many, their hat was part of a larger ensemble. One woman wore a matching masquerade mask and dress to go with her pink hat.

Maurita Smith, who won first place in the fashion category, donned a hat made up of flowers and fabric with a plant print. She completed the look with a matching blouse and clutch.

Her hat was the creation of Smith and her husband, Karl. The two hail from England, and work as hat designers. They collaborated on this year’s winning look, Maurita said, which was a bit wider than past designs.

“We’re like Dolce and Gabbana,” she joked.

The Smiths, who now live Fort Johnson, New York, have entered their hats in the contest previously and won, Maurita said, but this was her first year winning personally.

“We’ve been to the Kentucky Derby and we’ve been to Belmont,” she said. “But Saratoga is where you bring your best.”


Sunday marked the first of four free giveaway days at the Saratoga Race Course, with visitors claiming Saratoga baseball caps. Here’s a look at when the upcoming giveaway days are, and what fans can take home:

  • Monday, Aug. 7: Saratoga short-sleeve T-shirt
  • Monday, Aug. 21: Saratoga cooler bag
  • Sunday, Sept. 3: Saratoga wall clock

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