SARATOGA SPRINGS — The walls used to hold wood-and-metal plaques, embossed with a name and some statistics and biographical text. Solid, but stolid.
Now, these walls talk.
In a sneak preview open to media, the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame unveiled nine new interactive stations highlighting the inductees’ careers in the Hall of Fame Gallery, replacing the wooden plaques.
The gallery also is the site of a state-of-the-art film presentation, “What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame,” which employs banks of screens in the middle of the room and the outside walls themselves to introduce attendees not only to the people and horses in the Hall, but the process by which they reach the pinnacle of the sport.
You’ll hear directly from trainers like D. Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert, and jockeys like Angel Cordero, Jr., Pat Day, Mike Smith, Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens and John Velazquez, among many others. But the horses are the centerpiece, and the rich, colorful pageant of images are drawn from not only iconic races like Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes, but everyday events on the breeding farm and backstretch.
The NRMHOF had targeted July 16, coinciding with opening day of the Saratoga Race Course meet, as its grand opening to the public, but construction delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back.
The new exhibits will hit the wire before the end of the meet, though, as next Saturday, Sept. 5 marks the official re-opening to the public.
“This was a good time to do it,” NMRHOF director of communications Brien Bouyea said. “A lot of things are opening up, people are coming back to Saratoga and the Chamber of Commerce is pushing a lot of the businesses, marketing-wise.
“We’re open, we’ve got a lot of great safety procedures, we’re following the state and CDC guidelines, so we’re excited. We’ve been closed since January, so it’s going to be nice to have some people here.”
Bouyea demonstrated how to use the nine inductee stations, which are touch screens activated by digital styluses that will be provided upon entry to the museum.
They’re user-friendly and offer photos, video in some cases, links to connected Hall of Famers, timelines and the biographical text from the old plaques, with the added feature that the information is update-able with information that becomes available post-induction.
“For example, Mike Smith got inducted in 2003, so that plaque doesn’t mention anything about his rides on Zenyatta, the Triple Crown. Now, I do a little touch on the updates, and it’s updated the next day. It keeps the stats up to date, and we can continue to add video and photo galleries, so it’s always going to be evolving. And we’re never going to have to worry about running out of room.
“When we first started talking about this initially, the talk was the room was getting kind of tight with all the plaques. Are we going to do more construction to fit more in. We thought this was the perfect solution in the end.”
The NMRHOF has also revamped the gift shop and added some new exhibits, including a “Call the Race” booth in which visitors can play silent video of some famous races and offer their own version of the track announcer’s call and downloadable recordings available via email.
The current roster of races includes Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 Woodward, American Pharoah’s 2015 Belmont Stakes, Holy Bull’s 1994 Travers and Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont.
There will be a maximum of 24 patrons in the building at any time, with two-hour blocks available from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to be reserved on-line through ticket purchase.
The “What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame” film will be shown at the top of the second hour during each time block.
Tickets can be purchased at www.racingmuseum.org beginning on Monday.