Inside Track: Midsummer Derby Artist

Inside Track: Midsummer Derby Artist
Photo: Courtesy of Greg Montgomery
Greg Montgomery
When the owner of a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., gallery learned that a visitor thought a poster commemorating the 1985 Travers Stakes didn’t serve the gallery or the race proper respect, the owner challenged the visitor to create something finer.

The visitor was Greg Montgomery, who eventually contacted the Travers Celebration Committee, an ad hoc coalition of racetrack and community people, to announce his idea for a poster based on British Railway Art. A year later, to commemorate the 1986 Travers, the first of Montgomery’s Travers posters was produced.

The poster was a 17”x33” screen print of racing silks of 15 famous racing families, assembled row in a row to form an arrangement Montgomery believed would enhance their rivalries and the traditions inherent to America’s oldest stakes race.

“Famous racing silks made sense as an image,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t plan to produce a poster every year. I was just trying to be successful with my art.”

The popularity of that poster, now out of print and priceless, has led to the longest continuing series of sporting art by one artist for one event in the world.

Montgomery’s impressive series includes 19 posters that honor the Travers and Saratoga and four that commemorate Saratoga only. Three posters of historic interest, depicting Jim Dandy defeating Gallant Fox (1930), Jaipur nosing out Ridan (1962), and Alydar and Affirmed (1978), are the latest in the collection. All the posters can be found in a new book entitled The History and Art of 25 Travers, published by North Country Books.

Creating a poster is not a haphazard exercise for the deliberate Montgomery, 59, a graduate of the University of New Mexico who relocated to New York’s capital region from Washington, D.C., in 1980. He is a methodical thinker, precise in choosing his subject matter and painstakingly devoted to process. His lengthy approach involves capturing images with a camera, revising one he likes to suit his style, and then eliminating details in his drawing to end up with a constructivist design—“a process of reduction,” he calls it.

As one might expect, Montgomery is conscientious in all that he does, from selecting a meal to planning winters in Mexico. Dressed in pressed khaki vest and Akubra, nonetheless, he is more Monk than Colombo when sleuthing for subject matter in the racecourse’s intimate corners.

As a result, a visit to the winner’s enclosure in 1991 produced the poster named “Jockey’s Scales,” which contrasts a red and white awning with a purple shadow of a wrought-iron railing and reveals a tiny reflection of a horse and rider in the circular glass at the top of the weight scale. “First Race,” the 2003 poster that features horses pounding down a tan-colored homestretch as fans in billowy hats watch from white linen-covered tables, is his interpretation of Saratoga viewed from the exclusive Turf Terrace.

Next up for Montgomery is a month-long exhibition of the posters at the Arts Center Gallery in Saratoga, beginning Aug. 2. Plans to take the one-man show to the Breeders’ Cup, Lexington, Aiken, S.C., Hot Springs, Ark., and Ocala, Fla., have been discussed.

“I can do better,” Montgomery promised the gallery owner nearly two dozen years ago, and he was right about that when he said it.

Most Popular Stories