Thursday, April 2, 2009

Aiken Spring Season

Spring is upon us. The Masters of Foxhounds have blown the horn on the winter season, the foxhounds are back in their kennels and the foxhunters who were visiting from Northern climes have packed up their horses and headed home. The upper level event riders are gone, too. They spent the winter riding, training, practicing and competing at various Aiken venues. Now they are on the road, headed to competitions at The Fork (North Carolina), Fair Hill (Maryland), Jersey Fresh (New Jersey) and Rolex (Kentucky). But eventing isn’t over here: Aiken has many local event riders, and there are several lower-key competitions in Aiken and the surrounding areas throughout April and May, and even into the hot summer months.

The young racehorses that spent the winter learning their trade at Aiken Training Track are leaving, too. Many of them started shipping out shortly after the Aiken Trials on March 14. They are going to racetracks around the country: Belmont Park in New York, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Del Mar in California, Gulfstream Park in Florida. Almost every region of the United States will have at least one or two racehorses representing Aiken. The 2-year-olds will spend at least a few more months training before entering their first races. The 3-year-olds may be racing already.

As the ground temperatures rise, the Bermuda grass on the polo fields starts to green up, bringing back the polo players. The most serious of Aiken’s players spent the winter in Florida, competing in various important national and international tournaments. Some of them will be there until the end of April to watch (or play in) the U.S. Open Polo Championship, a 26-goal tournament with finals scheduled for April 26. Others will be shipping back to Aiken throughout the month of April. Players who spent the winter in town have had their horses in work for at least a couple of weeks and many are ready to play. If they are lucky, the horses are mostly shed-out and look like athletes again after spending the winter lounging about, eating hay. When players run into each other in social contexts in late March and early April, one of the first questions they are likely to ask is “Are your horses up yet?” or, more cryptically, “You up?”

The other events that mark the spring in Aiken are the horse shows, starting with the historic Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, held this year from April 3 through 5. There have been horse shows in Aiken throughout the winter, of course, mostly held at Highfields Event Center on Gaston Road. These included two weekends each of the “AA” rated Aiken Winter Classic and March Madness shows, which were quite well-attended this year, partially thanks to a strong contingent that shipped in from nearby Camden.

Mid-April, however, will be the main event, the eleventh anniversary Aiken Spring Classic I and II. The top draws at these shows are the $10,000 International Hunter Derby Classic on April 18, the $25,000 Aiken Spring Classic Grand Prix and Sunday brunch on April 19, and the $30,000 Carolina Real Estate Grand Prix and brunch on April 30. On April 19, Chris Powers, who is chairwoman of Women Beyond Cancer, is having a luncheon at the showgrounds to raise money for her charity. Women Beyond Cancer provides free retreats for women with cancer, some of them at Chris’s Two Sisters Farm in Windsor. The luncheon, which costs $40 per person, features lunch by Chef Miles of the Willcox, a silent auction and a sidesaddle demonstration by Aiken Ladies Aside. If you are interested in the luncheon or the retreats, find more information at

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