It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when Greg Montgomery didn’t have a keen eye for the Saratoga Race Course.
For more than 30 years, Montgomery has created the coveted Travers Day posters in his quintessential style, inspired by the British Railway posters of the twentieth century.
However, if anyone asked him prior to 1985 about Travers Day, he would have had one question: “What’s that?”
In 1980, Montmogery moved to Saratoga to work at General Electric and work on his master’s degree at the College of Saint Rose. While he lived in Saratoga Springs, he didn’t know very much about the track.
“By absolute chance I [had] a conversation with Jack Allen who owned Dayspring Gallery in Saratoga way back then. I happened to notice a small sign on his window that said “Travers” and I asked him about it,” Montgomery said.
Allen told him about the race and just how many people, including celebrities, politicians, etc. came out to see it every year. Montgomery remembers him using the term “American royalty.”
After looking again at the mimeographed poster in the window, Montgomery just didn’t think it suited Allen’s description. So he set out to create a poster that did.
The first one, which was printed in 1986, shows racing silks and jockey caps lined up like coats of armor.
“It was a big hit,” Montgomery said.
He and his wife, Paula Rosenberg, have created the posters essentially every year since then, sometimes focusing on the jockeys, sometimes the spectators, sometimes the backstretch, with horses being the one constant.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Travers Stakes, this year’s poster is anchored by the Travers Trophy, with all the horses from last year’s race in the background.
At first, Montgomery wasn’t sure about including the trophy, because he knew it would be incredibly difficult to draw.
“Over my objections, I’m glad to say, Paula called up one of our old friends Dave Smith, the keeper of the trophy at the track,” Montgomery said.
Smith brought the cup out and placed it in one of the boxes so Montgomery could photograph and sketch it. It was difficult to place in a way that the trophy wouldn’t reflect everything in the background, but after a bit of maneuvering Montgomery made it work, though it still took 90 days to draw the trophy alone.
Hence why he and Rosenberg start planning out the posters well in advance of Travers Day.
“We are right this minute trying to figure out what to do for next year,” Montgomery said.
Over the years, they’ve never run out of ideas and for Montgomery, the most successful posters are the ones that reflect British Railway art.
In the 1920s-40s, illustrators in Great Britain were hired to create images that encouraged people living in metropolitan areas to travel via the railroad. The illustrators often made idyllic scenes of what travelers might find, sometimes capturing the sweeping landscapes of Dunoon or Nottingham or the bright beach of White Bay.
“When I do a poster [like that] then I think it’s successful,” Montgomery said.
A few of his favorites over the years have been the 2001 poster featuring a close-up on a jockey and horse.
“It’s really a driving image, it’s full of action and color and it’s so simple. I think it’s five colors,” Montgomery said.
Another favorite was 2003’s “First Race.”
“The one that I think looks extremely like something that would have been done in the 30s and 40s in Great Britain and the best selling poster that Paula and I ever did. It’s the only poster we ever did that sold out in one season. It’s a view from the restaurant on the third level of the clubhouse. It’s the best seat with the best view on the best day in Saratoga,” Montgomery said.
Over the years of working on the series, he’s learned not to think of the posters so much as racing posters but travel posters for people to celebrate and commemorate being in Saratoga. “Nobody’s going to buy a travel poster to Belmont, but they do [in] Saratoga,” Montgomery said, “It’s an entirely different setup.”
Montgomery will be at the race track all day on Saturday with this year’s Travers poster.