Mon, May 20, 2024

Off to the races with a major economic impact

While it doesn’t involve world-class golf, there is another time-honored tradition in the CSRA and this one is all about horses. The 57th running of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase is Saturday, March 23, and it’s a big deal.

According to the Aiken Steeplechase Association, more than 25,000 visitors will attend this weekend’s event. The 43 horses entered came from up and down the Eastern seaboard. That means, horse owners, jockeys, and supporters are probably already here.

While ABD couldn’t confirm a bottom-line figure for economic impact, Eric Gordon, the city of Aiken’s Tourism Manager, told us, “Hotels are booked a year in advance for both participants and spectators. Average hotel spend would be around $120 to $150 per night.”

The Aiken Spring Steeplechase also features a “village of shops” with more than 40 vendors from across the country. If you are tailgating, there will be plenty of food choices including Ironhead BBQ.

“This is our first time delivering BBQ for Steeplechase. We are excited for the opportunity,” said Ironhead Pitmaster, Kurt Mueller.

Mueller and his Ironhead BBQ team have several selections of their award-winning recipes available for pre-order by Friday at noon including brisket, Baby back ribs, pork butt, and side dishes. You can check out the full menu and order here.

Colorful jockey attire on the track is equaled only by the fashion among spectators, especially hats and equestrian-themed items. CSRA shops and sales have been jumping this week with extra visitors.

While it hasn’t been the easiest of hurdles for True Aiken to offer their shop to visitors this week, Sarah Dodge will participate as a Steeplechase vendor. Earlier this week, the office next door to her shop at 311 Hayne Street caught fire.

“We lost a lot of merchandise to smoke damage, but we were able to get our most popular offerings ordered in time for our Steeplechase tent including horse-themed scarves, throws, and Aiken-branded items,” said Dodge.

“Steeplechase racing in Aiken is a time-honored tradition that dates to the 1930’s. Even with our tremendous growth over the years, the event’s pageantry, fashion, and atmosphere have remained. We strive to continue time-honored traditions at our event so that everyone can enjoy celebrating horses, which are so special to our town,” said Jessica Miller, Event Manager.

The main sponsors of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase are Budweiser, Honda Cars of Aiken, Aiken Regional Medical Center, and Aiken County Farm Supply.

Patron Tickets and Green Gate Patron Parking are still available for purchase. Tickets and Parking are $40 cash or check only. Race patrons can purchase tickets in advance at one of their local ticket outlets: Aiken County Farm Supply, Unique Expressions, Lionel Smith Ltd., Aiken County Visitors Center, Hibbits Drug Co., and Security Federal Bank locations.

The Aiken Steeplechase Association donates thousands of dollars to local charities each year, including the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, Aiken SPCA, Special Olympics, and Golden Harvest Food Bank.

Tickets and parking will be available for purchase on race day at the Green Gate only. The Green Gate is located at 1211 Rudy Mason Parkway Aiken, SC 29801.

 

  • Infield parking closes to vehicles at noon and will not reopen until after the last race at 4:20 pm.
  • 12:00-12:30 pm – Opening Ceremonies which will include a presentation by the Aiken County Pony Club, Parade of Hounds, and Carriage Parade.
  • 1:00 pm – First Race and races will run in 40-minute intervals. There are 6 races.
  • 2:00 pm – Hat and Crazy Pants Contest at the Live Music Stage located in the Budweiser Libation Station

 

“Patron experience is one of our top priorities. This year, we have added two mobile video screens to the infield so that everyone has a great view of the action,” said Miller.

Next up for horse lovers is Pacers & Polo at the Whitney Polo Field on March 30th. The event will feature six thrilling 7-minute chukkers, with a 20-minute intermission in between. The match will be kicked off with an opening ceremony, followed by an awards ceremony to conclude the event.

Editor’s Note:
Mitzi Oxford is a veteran broadcaster and features writer who also worked at the same television station in Columbus, Georgia as Augusta’s Brad Means! If you have a South Carolina story idea for Mitzi, please email her at mitzioxfordcreative@gmail.com.

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