Saratoga Springs, N.Y. — Thoroughbred horse racing is not the sport it once was, as even its biggest boosters will admit. Yet each August, the town of Saratoga Springs jumps to life as the center of American racing, hosting a series of major stakes races at the historic Saratoga Race Course, which dates back to 1863 and is the oldest sporting venue in the nation.
A moneyed set of owners and breeders migrates to their majestic Victorian houses for the six-week season, while thousands of fans make the day trip by train from New York or Albany or other surrounding towns for the festivities — which can resemble a state fair, but with gambling and grand hats thrown into the mix.
“I love being there. The people are really interesting and it’s such a different scene. It’s like walking into a special piece of American history,” said Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, who has been going to Saratoga for 20 years.
Costa’s longtime partner, John DeStefano, was a thoroughbred horse trainer for 30 years and now owns horses under the Black Swan Stables name. Earlier this month, DeStefano and his stable partners — which include PVH chief executive Emanuel Chirico and New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci — won the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes with Sean Avery, a horse named for the hockey player and former Vogue intern.
This past weekend, the grand dame of American racing, Marylou Whitney, 85, was inducted into the prestigious Jockey Club, the sport’s national governing body, which meets every year in Saratoga Springs for a roundtable discussion and black-tie benefit gala. “She’s brought so much to racing and to the Saratoga community. She was very excited for this honor and it’s something she’s really wanted for quite a while,” said Sheryl Schwartz, another doyenne of the town. Schwartz is married to Barry Schwartz, the former chairman and ceo of Calvin Klein Inc., and together they own several hundred race horses, many stabled at their 768-acre Stonewall Farm in Westchester County.
Schwartz cuts a sleek figure in the tradition-bound town. She sported an extravagantly pleated Givenchy top by Riccardo Tisci to a dinner at the Wishing Well restaurant on Friday, a bejeweled J. Mendel dress to dinner at Siro’s at the Lodge on Saturday and a body-hugging, asymmetric Rick Owens leather jacket to a Jockey Club meeting on Sunday morning.
On Saturday, she donned a vivid coral Calvin Klein shift by Costa and a very large pair of canary yellow diamond earrings for the races. The day included a lunch at The Saratoga Reading Rooms, a historic members-only club on the outskirts of Saratoga Race Course filled with spry octogenarians in printed dresses and small children in Lilly Pulitzer. The club continues its quaint custom of allowing only men to occupy its upper lodging rooms.
Also on hand at the races — and the concurrent thoroughbred yearling sales — were prominent owners like Charlotte Weber, an heiress to the Campbell Soup fortune; Vivien Malloy, whose family founded Bergdorf Goodman, and Earle Mack, the former ambassador to Finland, who sported a pristine white suit that could give Tom Wolfe a run for his money. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stopped in for dinner at Siro’s that evening, although Mitt Romney, who had reservation, was a no-show.
The previous week, Bo Derek and Bebe Neuwirth were on hand at the 10th annual Equine Advocates gala, while Kevin Dillon and Kevin Connolly of “Entourage” sat in the Schwartz box for the races. “I always loved how everyone gets dressed for the races. It’s a throwback to a different time,” said Barry Schwartz of the boxes’ dress code, which includes a jacket and tie for men, and no jeans or shorts. “I remember when Alfred Vanderbilt was chairman here at the track, it could be a 101 degrees but gentlemen never took off their jackets — until he did.”
“I think it’s hysterical,” added Costa of the extravagant hats and flouncy dresses worn by the women. “It’s like going to church.”