Hats, suits and ties were in fashion — and horse racing was the passion.
People from all over the Capital Region visited Saratoga Race Course on Monday, July 29, 1974. It was opening day for the 24-day meet, and 16,981 people were in the stands and at the rail for their first looks of the season.
The crowd size of 40 years ago was a conversation topic.
“The attendance figure was encouraging because it was the largest first-day crowd for any Spa meeting that opened in July,” wrote Jack Hugerich, then the Schenectady Gazette’s sports editor.
July openers were always questionable. “We never do well when we open in July,” said Sam Kanchuger, a spokesman for the New York Racing Association.
Progress was on the march. Triple wagering was being accepted for the first time, but only for the ninth race. In 1973, Saratoga fans had been permitted to place their first exacta bets at the track. In ’74, the one-two combinations were accepted for the third, fifth and seventh races.
The opener was a grand day for Neil Hellman. The Albany theater owner owned Laughing Bridge, who was favored in the Schuylerville — the feature race that attracted seven fillies. Neil’s horse won the race for laughs.
“Just before the quarter pole, veteran jockey Braulio Baeza booted his Florida-bred charge to the front,” wrote Gazette sportswriter Cecil Walker. “The outcome was never in doubt thereafter as the Al Scotti-trained miss built a five-length cushion at the half and inflated that to eight by the turn for home.”
People with a few bucks on Laughing Bridge went home happy — the fave paid $3.20 for each $2 win ticket. Bettors who took their chances on Whatawhip, Robberhood and All Ahead Flank in the ninth race went home richer. Saratoga’s first triple paid $834.
Triples are now accepted for every race at Saratoga, which begins its 146th meet on Friday.