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Upstate New York is a region of the U.S. state of New York north of the core of the New York metropolitan area. There is no clear or official boundary between Upstate New York and Downstate New York, and other names exist for regions north of New York City — either as part of, or distinct from, the Upstate region.
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There is no clear or official boundary between Upstate New York and Downstate New York. Latitude is generally a consideration in whether or not a place is "upstate", as well as elevation and being away from sea level (hence the prefix "up", meaning both to the north and having a greater altitude). Distance from New York City is also a consideration. Complicating any definition is the usage of the word "upstate" (in lowercase) as a direction, rather than as the name of a region.
One usage of the term "Upstate" excludes only New York City and Long Island. Another usage locates the Upstate/Downstate boundary farther north, at the point at which New York City's suburbs segue into its exurbs. This line would place most, but not all, of Westchester and Rockland counties south of the boundary, putting the northwestern edge of Rockland as well as the northernmost quarter of Westchester (such as Peekskill) in Upstate New York. Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties are the northernmost counties of the state of New York that are within the New York metropolitan area, with Putnam being the northernmost of all. This was the definition used (unsuccessfully) by the plaintiffs in the Federal redistricting case of Rodriguez v. Pataki.
One traditional, political definition of Upstate is "north of Bear Mountain" in Orange County, New York. Another view places the boundary even farther north. Orange, Dutchess, and Ulster counties, even farther "upstate" (lower case) are part of the New York-Newark-Bridgeport, New York-New Jersey-Connecticut-Pennsylvania Combined Statistical Area (CSA), and also sometimes not identified as being part of Upstate (uppercase). This CSA-based definiton is used by some New York State agencies, such as the Office for the Aging. Because most New York City bedroom communities in Dutchess and Orange counties are situated in the southern part of those counties and the New York City's suburban public transportation system extends some distance north, the Upstate/Downstate boundary can be defined roughly by a border extended from Wassaic (in Dutchess County, where Metro-North's Harlem Line ends) across to Poughkeepsie, down to Newburgh and then across to Middletown and Port Jervis in Orange County. This definition of Upstate New York roughly corresponds with the area north of Interstate 84. This imaginary line also demarcates the northernmost reach of high housing prices associated with the Downstate region in contrast to the relatively low housing costs found farther upstate. It also roughly corresponds to the demarcation line between area code 914 (which covers most of the northern suburbs of New York City) and area code 845 (which covers the area immediately beyond that).
Particularly within Upstate New York, the demarcation of "Upstate" is often much farther north. For instance, many communities clearly beyond the New York City commuter orbit are part of New York City's media market, which includes Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties (i.e. the aforementioned area code 845), and thus do not get local television (via cable) from Albany or Binghamton TV stations. Many upstate residents note that the state capital of Albany, being mostly dominated by New York City-area politicians, has more in common with downstate than upstate, and imply that everything in between, including the Hudson Valley region and occasionally the Catskill Mountains, can be considered downstate. Geographically, Albany is also the point where the New York Thruway turns to the west and drivers continuing north on I-87 cash out of the toll system and continue on the toll-free Adirondack Northway. Columnist Liz Benjamin (a Hudson Valley native who self-identifies as an upstater) is quoted as saying "I know there's considerable disagreement over where, exactly, the upstate/downstate divide is located. Some would say it starts at the Capital Region and what's to the south is more in line with NYC than Western New York and the North Country." For example, Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde (in defending Caroline Kennedy's abortive Senate run) criticized Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's upstate credentials by saying "In the end... [w]e get a [so-called] 'upstate' senator whose Hudson Valley base is equidistant from New York City and Albany, the state's power centers." Charles Schumer once famously stated "To me, the West begins across the Hudson River." Politics aside, the term "Upstate" is occasionally used (somewhat ambiguously) to refer to Northern New York, including the Adirondack Mountains, as opposed to other areas of traditional Upstate such as Western New York and Central New York. In this sense, anything north of the Mohawk River can be considered "Upstate".
In some parts of the New York metropolitan area the term "Upperstate New York" is used to differentiate the close-in suburbs from the northern and western parts of the state. In some regions the term "Upperstate" refers to the suburbs and "Upstate" refers to the northern and western regions, and in other regions the terms are reversed.
Residents of Upstate New York often prefer to identify with a more specific region, such as "Western New York" or "Central New York". Some residents of Western New York object to their area being called "Upstate", though a number of businesses and institutions in the area have "Upstate" as part of their name. Generally people living north of Syracuse ("Central" New York) do not use the term "upstate" in reference to their area but refer to it as "Northern" New York.
New York City is dependent on upstate for a variety of services; it is the source of the city's water supply via the Delaware Aqueduct and the Catskill Aqueduct; much of the city's electric power supply comes from state owned hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River; and most of the state's prisons are upstate; hence the popular term "being sent up the river" (however, the term originally referred to Sing Sing, which is "up the Hudson River" from New York City, but being in Ossining in Westchester County is still in the "downstate" region). Conversely, the operation of state facilities providing these services is an important part of the upstate economy.
Long Island is never considered upstate, as each of its four counties extends farther south than Manhattan, two are part of New York City, and the island has no direct physical (land or bridge) connection to any part of New York north of New York City.
Institutions with "Upstate" as part of their name include the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, the Upstate New York Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation serving 31 of New York's 62 counties, and the VA Healthcare Network Upstate New York, which includes all of New York State northward and westward from Kingston, New York in Ulster County. Other organizations in New York with "Upstate" in their name include the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association, the Upstate Correctional Facility, the Upstate New York Club Hockey League, the Upstate New York Synod, and the Upstate Citizens for Equality.
The term Upstate America is also occasionally used instead of "Upstate New York" (see, for instance, some of the work of Albany political reporter Jimmy Vielkind) to emphasize the differences between upstate and downstate New York, sometimes in comparison to other similar states in the northern tier of the United States.
The other regions of New York State are culturally and economically distinct from the New York City area and in many ways from each other. Most of New York State is characterized both by agricultural and forested rural communities, and by small and medium-sized cities and their surrounding suburbs located along major transportation corridors. The state's major metropolitan areas outside of New York City are Buffalo, Rochester, Albany-Schenectady-Troy, and Syracuse, each of whose population exceeds 500,000.
The different regions of New York State are influenced by and have affinities with other adjacent regions. Western New York has cultural and economic ties to the other Great Lakes states as well as Southern Ontario. The Capital District, the Hudson Valley, the Mohawk Valley and the Plattsburgh area have ties to New England. The North Country, the extreme northern portion of the state, also has strong cultural, economic, linguistic and familial ties to Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Thus, Plattsburgh has close ties to its neighbors in the Montreal area as well as Vermont. Much of New York State receives television and radio broadcasts from Canada and there are often other cross-border ties, both historical and familial. A similar relationship can be seen in Northern New England.
Linguistically, upstate New York from Western New York east to Utica is part of the Inland North region of American English dialectology, a region which includes Midwestern cities as far west as Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hudson and lower Mohawk Valley has more in common dialectologically with western New England and New York City. The boundary between the use of the words pop and soda to refer to soft drinks, however, falls farther west than the edge of the Inland North, running just to the east of the city of Rochester: Buffalo and Rochester use pop, like the rest of the Inland North to the west, whereas Syracuse uses soda, like New England and New York City. In Ithaca and Elmira, the border is less clear, with some people having grown up with pop and some with soda; however, current trends see Ithaca, at least, turning to mostly "soda".
Foodways indigenous to regions of Upstate New York include Plattsburgh's "Michigan" hot dog, a variety of Coney Island hot dog; the white hot dog of central and western New York that is known variously as the "White Hot" or "Coney" (pronounced alternately as either "coney" or "cooney"); the "Spiedie" of the Binghamton area; Central New York's salt potatoes; Utica's Tomato Pie, Chicken riggies, Greens and Halfmoon Cookies; Rochester's Garbage plate; Buffalo's beef on weck sandwich, and perhaps most famously, Buffalo wings. Although the potato chip was invented in Saratoga Springs, it has achieved such universal popularity that it is no longer identified with the region. Winemaking is a growing industry in the Finger Lakes as well as in Chautauqua County, where Welch's operates one of the oldest extant grape juice factories in the United States. In the center of the Finger Lakes, region Ithaca is known for the Bo Burger, a cheeseburger with a fried egg on top.
Two of the most important rock festivals of the 20th century were held in Upstate New York. In 1969 the Woodstock Festival was held in Bethel, New York, while in 1973 another multiday festival was held at the Watkins Glen International Raceway.
Some literary, documentary and cinematic depictions of upstate present a sense of small town, simple lifestyles, such as It's a Wonderful Life, set in a small upstate town in the 1940s.
While residents of English ancestry have a strong presence, The Hudson Valley, the Capital District and the Syracuse region are heavily Irish American. The North Country is heavily French Canadian. Italian Americans are the largest ethnic group in Oneida County, Broome County, and Schenectady, while German ancestry is most common across western New York. Persons of Polish, Irish, German, and Italian ancestry are predominant in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester and their close suburbs. African Americans while not as numerous as in New York City make up a sizable percentage of the residents in cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany.
There is also a significant presence of the indigenous Haudenosaunee or Six Nations in the region, who retain several reservations: the Seneca nation and Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians in Western New York, the Onondaga nation south of Syracuse, the Oneida nation of Oneida County and the Mohawk nation in Franklin County. Members of the Six Nations also live in the cities of Upstate New York.
The Allegheny Plateau extends into west and central New York from the south. The Catskill Mountains lie in the southeastern part of the state, closer to New York City. The Catskills and the Allegheny Plateau are both part of the Appalachian Mountains. The northernmost part of the state contains the Adirondack Mountains, which are sometimes considered part of the Appalachians but are geologically separate, a southern extension of the Canadian Shield.
In the more mountainous eastern part of Upstate New York, the valleys of the Hudson River and the Mohawk River were historically important travel corridors and remain so today. Western New York in the vicinity of Buffalo is very flat, as it was once the bottom of a glacial lake. The only "hills" in Niagara County are the Niagara Escarpment, which formed the Falls.
Upstate has a long shared border with Canadian province of Ontario divided by water; including the Lake Erie, Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It shares a land border with the province of Quebec in the northernmost part of the state.
The sizes of upstate counties and towns are generally larger in area and smaller in population, compared with the downstate region, although there are exceptions. The state's smallest county in population (Hamilton County) and largest county in area (St. Lawrence County on the state's northern border) are both in Upstate New York, while the largest in population (Kings County) and smallest in area (New York County) are both part of New York City.
Upstate New York is well known for its cold and snowy winters, particularly in comparison to the more temperate climate of downstate New York. The snowy reputation is especially true for the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Oswego and Syracuse, and is largely due to lake-effect snow from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The villages of Old Forge and Saranac Lake, both in the Adirondacks, often vie on winter nights with places like International Falls, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota for the coldest spot in the nation.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the area was inhabited by Iroquoian-speaking people (mainly west of the Hudson) and Algonquian-speaking people (mainly east of the Hudson). The conflict between the two peoples was an important historical force in the days of the early European colonization. The Haudenosaunee or Iroquois confederacy of the Five (later Six) Nations was a powerful force in its home territory, having successfully eliminated the tribes of Neutral Indians, Wenrohronon and the Erie Indians in Western New York during the Beaver Wars. (Survivors were mostly assimilated into the Seneca nation; others are believed to have escaped to South Carolina.) The Five Nations' territory extended from the Mohawk River Valley to the western part of the state. From this home base they also controlled at various times large swaths of additional territory throughout what is now the northeastern United States. The Guswhenta (Two Row Wampum Treaty), made with the Dutch government in 1613, codified relations between the Haudenosaunee and European colonizers, and formed the basis of subsequent treaties.
The region was important from the first days of both French Colonization and Dutch colonization In the seventeenth century. The New Netherland colony encompassed the Hudson Valley north to the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, where Fort Orange (later Albany) was established in 1623 and Schenectady in 1661. The upper Hudson Valley was the center of much of the colony's fur trade.
North and west of New Netherland, the French established trading posts as far south as the shores of Onondaga Lake. They found both trading and proselytizing difficult among the Haudenosaunee, as Samuel de Champlain had alienated the Haudenosaunee during military forays from New France. In the 1640s, three French Jesuit missionaries to New France —St. René Goupil, St. Isaac Jogues, and St. Jean de Lalande—were killed near the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, which was located near the modern town of Auriesville. They are considered to be the first three U.S. saints.
England seized New Netherland by force in 1664, renaming it New York. The Dutch recaptured the colony nine years later, but ceded it to England in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674.
In the eighteenth century, the English consolidated their hold on the region. Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet established an estate in the Mohawk Valley, living among the Mohawks and forging an alliance with them. The English also encouraged settlement in the Mohawk Valley by other Europeans including German Palatines.
In what became known as the Albany Congress, delegates from seven of the thirteen British North American colonies met at Albany in 1754 to pursue a treaty with the Mohawks. Benjamin Franklin, a Pennsylvania delegate, proposed a plan for uniting the seven colonies that greatly exceeded the scope of the congress. The delegates spent most of their time debating this Albany Plan of union, one of the first attempts to form a union of the colonies "under one government as far as might be necessary for defense and other general important purposes". The delegates approved an amended version, but the colonies rejected it.
To counter the French militarily, the English established forts along Lake Ontario and at portages between the Mohawk Valley and the adjacent Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario watersheds. The region was thus the scene of much of the fighting of the French and Indian War, such as the Battle of Fort Oswego (1756) and the Siege of Fort William Henry (which was later depicted in the work of James Fenimore Cooper).
The English conquered New France by 1760. France formally ceded New France to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. The same year, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which established the western and northern boundary of the Province of New York at the limits of the Hudson, Mohawk and Delaware River watersheds. The area between that boundary and the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River was to be the "Indian Reserve."
Between 1774 and 1783, deeply divided colonists waged civil war on each other directly and by proxy, through attacks such as the Seneca-led Cherry Valley and the Mohawk-led Cobleskill massacre. In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition, a campaign by the Continental Army ordered by General George Washington, drove thousands of the Haudenosaunee from their villages, farms and lands in the region in an effort to both avenge and prevent such attacks.
The region was strategically important to the war plans of both the British and the Continental armies. British efforts to divide the New England colonies from the rest led to battles between the armies including the Battle of Saratoga, a significant turning point in the war. While New York City remained in the hands of the British during most of the war, the upstate region was eventually dominated by the Colonial forces. At the end of the war, the Continental Army was headquartered in Newburgh. Uncertain that the Continental Congress would pay back wages, some Continental officers threatened an uprising in what became known as the Newburgh Conspiracy.
The Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution established the border between New York and British North America. The 45th Parallel became the border with Quebec or Lower Canada. The St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Lake Erie became the border with Upper Canada. Great Britain continued to occupy military installations along the American shores of the Great Lakes until 1794, including Fort Niagara at the mouth of the Niagara River and Fort Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River.
The government of the new State of New York seized the property of New Yorkers who had remained loyal to the British crown. Thousands emigrated to colonies that remained under British rule, such as Nova Scotia and the newly established Upper Canada. Haudenosaunee who had fought with the British also fled. The British Crown granted a large tract of land in Upper Canada to their Haudenosaunee allies, who established the Grand River settlement.
In the federal Treaty of Canandaigua, the new United States recognized the title of the remaining Haudenosaunee to the land north and west of the Proclamation Line of 1763. Nevertheless, New York state officials and private land agents sought through the early 19th century to extinguish Indian title to these lands via non-Federally-sanctioned treaties, such as the Treaty of Big Tree. The Treaties of Buffalo Creek were designed to finally remove the last of the native claims in Western New York as part of the federal Indian Removal program, but the purchaser failed to buy most of the land in time, and some of the tribes objected to their exclusion. Three of the four reservations remain in the region to this day; one of the reservations leased out their land to form the city of Salamanca, and the coexistence of the predominantly white city and the reservation has been a source of contention since the 1990s.
Both before and after the Revolution, boundary disputes with other colonies and their successor states also complicated American settlement. In conflict with New York Colony's claims west of the Hudson Valley, which placed the entire region in the sprawling Albany County, Pennsylvania Colony claimed much of the Southern Tier until 1774, while Massachusetts Bay Colony claimed all of the region west of Massachusetts to the Great Lakes.
The Province of New York also claimed jurisdiction east to the Connecticut River. To pursue this claim north of Connecticut and Massachusetts, New York granted lands to settlers in what is now Vermont at the same time that New Hampshire made grants of the same lands. When Vermont declared independence in 1777, the new Republic of Vermont recognized the New Hampshire grants over those of New York. New Yorkers who lost land in Vermont came to be known as the "Vermont Sufferers" and were granted new lands in 1788 in the Town of Bainbridge, New York.
The dispute with Massachusetts over lands to the west of Massachusetts was settled in the 1786 Treaty of Hartford by dividing the rights to the land. The treaty granted sovereignty to the State of New York, but granted to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the "pre-emptive" right to seek title to the land from the Haudenosaunee. The eastern boundary of the Massachusetts lands was thus known as the Preemption Line. This line runs from the Pennsylvania line due north to Lake Ontario, passing through Seneca Lake. The line was surveyed a second time due to initial errors. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts sold this land in large tracts, including the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase.
Many of the settlers of what then became Central and Western New York came from the New England states. The Central New York Military Tract, where many of the townships were given the names of classical military and literary figures by Robert Harpur, was established to grant land to Revolutionary War veterans.
Battles of the War of 1812 (1812–1815) were fought on the Niagara Frontier, in the Champlain Valley, including the Battle of Plattsburgh, in the St. Lawrence Valley, and on Lake Ontario, including the Battle of Sackets Harbor. The city of Buffalo was razed by the British as well. After the war, the US Government began to construct Fort Montgomery just south of the border at Rouses Point on Lake Champlain. Subsequently it was discovered that at that point, the actual 45th parallel was three-quarters of a mile south of the surveyed line, putting the Fort, which became known as "Fort Blunder", in Canada. This was not resolved until 1842 with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, in which Great Britain and the United States decided to leave the border on the meandering line as surveyed.
Slavery existed in New Netherland and the Province of New York. New York was in the 1690s the largest importer of slaves among the American colonies. Slavery did not end with the American Revolution, although John Jay introduced an emancipation bill into the State Assembly as early as 1777. Sojourner Truth was held as a slave in the Hudson Valley from the time she was born in 1797 until she escaped in 1826. Through efforts of the New York Manumission Society and others, New York began to adopt a policy of gradual emancipation in 1799. The law passed in 1817 that would finally emancipate slaves did not take effect for ten years, giving slaveowners an entire decade to sell their slaves away to other states. When the law finally took effect, the last 2,800 slaves in New York State were emancipated on July 4, 1827.
Although routes for travel on foot and by canoe had existed across the region for hundreds of years, transportation of agricultural goods to market was expensive and slow. Influenced by the canals being built in Britain, leading citizens of New York began to press for the construction of a canal across the state. Governor DeWitt Clinton prevailed upon the legislature to charter and fund construction of a canal from Albany to Buffalo. Construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. The canal allowed the area to become an important component of the 19th century industrial expansion in the United States. The canal also promoted trade with British North America and settlement of newer states in western territories. Later in the century the New York Central Railroad followed the "water-level route" from New York City to the Great Lakes, contributing to the industrialization of cities along its route.
Several times in the nineteenth century, Upstate New York served as a staging area and refuge for Canadian rebels against Great Britain, as well as Irish-American invaders of Canada, straining British-American relations. In 1837 and 1838, in the aftermath of the Lower Canada Rebellion, some Québécois rebels escaped south to the North Country, while on the Niagara Frontier, events of the Upper Canada Rebellion, also known as the Patriot War, took place. In the late 1860s, some of the Fenian Raids were launched across the Niagara Frontier; Fenians also assembled in Malone.
Although now largely discredited, the report of the 1905–07 Mills Commission, charged with investigating the origins of baseball, named Cooperstown as the place where baseball was invented in the 1830s or 1840s by Abner Doubleday. Cooperstown is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
In the pre-Civil War era, Upstate New York became a major center of radical abolitionist activity and was an important nexus of the Underground Railroad. Resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act was particularly heated in the region, as evidenced by such events as the Jerry Rescue. The American women's rights movement was also born in Upstate New York at this time; the Seneca Falls Convention, an early and influential|women's rights convention, was held at Seneca Falls in 1848.
Through the nineteenth century, Upstate New York was a hotbed of religious revivalism. A number of sects, such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community, established themselves in Upstate New York during that time. This led evangelist Charles Grandison Finney to coin the term the "Burned-Over District" for the region. Because of the comparative isolation of the region, many of the sects were non-conformist, and because of their non-traditional tenets they had numerous difficulties with government and other local people. The region is considered to be the cradle of Mormonism, as well as the Women's Suffrage movement. The Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Spiritualists are the only 21st century survivors of the hundreds of sects created during this time.
In the 19th century, extractive industries changed the landscape. Potash was manufactured as the land was cleared for farming. Logging was rampant in the Adirondacks. Iron was mined in the Adirondacks and the North Country. By the 1870s, business leaders, concerned about the effect of deforestation on the water supply necessary to the Erie Canal, advocated for the creation of forest preserves in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. The Adirondack Park and Catskill Park were created and strengthened by a series of legislation between 1885 and 1894, when the "Forever wild" provision of the New York State Constitution was added.
During the era immediately following World War II, Upstate reached what was probably its peak influence in the national economy. Major local corporations such as IBM, General Electric, Kodak, Xerox and Carrier produced cutting edge products for business, government and consumers. The opening of the New York State Thruway in the mid-1950s gave the region superior access to other eastern markets. This regional advantage faded as many local firms relocated operations to other states, or downsized in the face of foreign competition, similar to other areas in the American Rust Belt.
In recent decades, with the decline of manufacturing, the area has generally suffered a net population loss. In contrast, many Amish and Mennonite families are recent arrivals to the area. Beginning in 1974, many Mennonite families moved to the Penn Yan area of Yates County from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, seeking cheaper farmland. Recently established Amish communities are in St. Lawrence, Montgomery, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
Additionally, Upstate New York continues to boast low crime rates, high educational prospects, and readily affordable daily essentials, earning Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Schenectady, and Buffalo spots in the Forbes magazine list of top ten places to raise a family in the United States. 
Five of the six Iroquois nations have filed land claims against New York State (or have sought settlement of pending claims), based on late 18th-century treaties with the State of New York and the United States.
Main Article: Politics of Upstate New York
Often attributed to the region's semi-rural character, there is more conservatism in culture and politics than found in the more urban downstate area, and is the power base of the state's Republican Party. Upstate New York does however have several Democratic counties including Erie County (Buffalo), Monroe County (Rochester), Onondaga County (Syracuse), Tompkins County (Ithaca), Albany County (Albany), Broome County (Binghamton), Clinton (Plattsburgh), Franklin County (Malone), St. Lawrence County (Massena, Potsdam, Ogdensburg) and Ulster County (Kingston, Woodstock, New Paltz).
As a whole, Upstate New York is roughly equally divided in Federal elections between Democrats and Republicans. In 2004, John Kerry defeated George W. Bush by fewer than 1,500 votes (1,553,246 votes to 1,551,971) in the Upstate Region.
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Saratoga Springs Horse Racing Hall of Fame