A piece of history from Saratoga Race Course that was destroyed by wind about 100 years ago is having a second life of sorts across the street at the Oklahoma Training Track.
The Whitney viewing stand was unveiled on Thursday morning and will be open on Saturday and for the rest of the meet free of charge to members of the public who want to watch the morning workouts at the city's thoroughbred training track. The viewing stand , which is open in time for the 150th anniversary of the start of racing in Saratoga Springs, was designed by the Phinney Design Group to closely resemble a judge's viewing stand that had been located along the main track.
"It is not an exact replica, but it is very close to the historic judges' tower that once stood at the main race course in 1892," said Phinney Design Group's Michael Phinney.
To achieve a historically correct look for the viewing stand , which is a timber-framed three-story structure sitting on a newly landscaped walkway and has a weather vane on top of a steeply pitched roof, Phinney said they worked from pictures provided by the local historical society that allowed them to determine proper proportions and details. "We scanned photos into the computer " so it was a little bit of a forensic process in the beginning," he said.
The stand was modified to function as a viewing stand , which can hold 12 people at a time, with changes including reinforcements that should prevent it from blowing away like the roof of the original viewing stand .
"It was an honor to be part of it, and to re-create something from that era is not something we get to do every day," Phinney said.
The stand is named in honor of contributions to racing in the city from generations of the Whitney family. Saratoga 150 Committee co-chairman Charlie Wait credited W.C. Whitney with revitalizing racing in the city when he purchased the race track in 1901. That led to improvements of the property. He also acknowledged the ongoing efforts of Marylou Whitney , who promoted racing with her late husband, C.V. Whitney , and continues to be active with husband John Hendrickson.
"The naming of this structure honors this extraordinary family and their extraordinary commitment to Saratoga Springs," Wait said.
In brief remarks, Marylou Whitney said she hoped people would take advantage of the new attraction. "I am so honored to be here, and I am so thrilled that so many people in this community have done so much to make this [Saratoga 150] celebration a success," she said.
New York Racing Association CEO Chris Kay hopes the stand will live on for generations of new fans. Along with the new hoofprints walk of fame outside the Nelson Avenue entrance to the track, the viewing stand will serve as one of the permanent legacies of the Saratoga 150 celebration.
One aspect of the project, a small area of raised flooring above the second-floor viewing area, had some people scratching their heads on Thursday because there didn't appear to be any way up there. Phinney said the space is an homage to the space where judges once would have stood. "It shows people what that was like," he said.
Racing fans can access the new viewing stand through the East Avenue entrance to the training track, where security guards will direct people to a specific parking area. People will be allowed on the stand , but a security guard will be present to keep them from straying to areas that will remain off-limits.
The new accessibility represents a stark change from recent years and is the result of a compromise with the horsemen at the training track, who had safety concerns that prompted the viewing stand to be moved during the early stages of construction to where it is now.