Sunday, January 31, 2010

Georgia Racing?

Can you imagine going to watch horse races at Augusta Downs? The members of the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee can, and they do. In fact, this year, it looks as if they might be a step closer to realizing their horse-racing dreams. The group, which is based in Augusta, has been working for about 18 years to get parimutuel betting and horse racing legalized in the state. The main obstacle is a provision in the Georgia constitution that prohibits any type of gaming except for the state lottery. On Tuesday, January 26, Representative Henry Geisinger (R) introduced HR 1177 into the Georgia House of Representatives, a bill that would remove the block on gaming in the state. Since allowing gambling would alter the state constitution, changing the law requires passage by two thirds of the lawmakers as well as the approval of the voters in the November elections.

Arthur Anderson, who works with the Georgia-South Carolina horse racing group, says that members were surprised and pleased that the bill entered the house with 50 co-sponsors, which would seem to be a good sign. According to Anderson, the main reason that Georgia lawmakers might be eager to legalize horse racing is economic.

“Georgia is looking at tax deficits of two billion dollars over the next few years,” he says. “Representative Geisinger chaired a committee in October that showed how much money horse racing could generate for the state. Our concept is to earmark those funds for education.”

Anderson says that the horse racing group would like to see four parimutuel tracks in Georgia, one near Augusta, one near Perry, one near Atlanta and a fourth somewhere in the western part of the state. If horse racing is legalized, there is already a consortium with a reported $50 million ready to start building tracks, barns and hotels.

The news that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the leader of Dubai, has purchased land in Aiken for a Thoroughbred training facility has certainly raised consciousness about the desirability of the area for racehorses. Arthur Anderson says that the horse racing lobby group would like to use this as a starting point for horse racing talks in South Carolina.

“We’ll start in Aiken, then go to Camden, then to Charleston,” he says.

Bruce McGhee, who owns McGhee’s Mile, the historic mile track for Standardbreds on Banks Mill Road, has been a part of the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee for about a year. He is excited about the prospect of legalized racing in Georgia because he believes it would revitalize the area’s economy. He also thinks that horse racing would be a great thing for the community as a whole.

“Anyone who denies the magnificence of a racehorse doesn’t understand what racing is about,’ he says.

For more information about the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee, go to the website www.gaschrc.org.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

USEF Training Sessions

The upper level eventers will be back in Aiken this winter to train at Three Runs Plantation. The United States Equestrian Federation has announced that riders vying for a spot on the U.S. eventing team will be in Aiken for five separate training sessions, three in February (Feb. 7-8, 15-16 and 22-24) and two in March (Mar. 11-12, and 15-17.) Captain Mark Phillips, who is the chef d’√©quipe of the U.S. team, will be on hand. He will be assisted this year by Katie Monahan Prudent and Oded Shimoni. Katie Prudent, who won team gold at the World Showjumping Championship in 1986, is one of the most accomplished show jumper riders anywhere. Oded Shimoni is among the most respected names in international dressage. A native of Israel, he is a veteran of two World Equestrian Games and two European Championships.

This is the second year that Three Runs Plantation has been selected as the location for the high performance sessions. Three Runs, a 2,400-acre equestrian residential community, has top quality dressage and show jumping areas that are ideal for the sessions. They are particularly convenient for spectators because the Three Runs clubhouse faces the rings, so if it is cold or windy, spectators can still watch in comfort. During the final session in mid-March,Wayne Raiford, the owner and developer of Three Runs, will hold a private fundraiser for the U.S. Equestrian Team.

The training sessions are open to the public, and members of the equestrian community are encouraged to come out and watch the elite riders train. This year, the sessions are for “A” and “B” listed riders only, meaning riders that are serious contenders for a spot on the U.S. Team that will compete at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. Riders on the list include quite a few who already make Aiken their winter home: Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Will Coleman, Stephen Bradley, Jan Byyny, Sinead Halpin. It will be a great opportunity to see some of the best get even better.

For more information, contact Laurie Garner at 704.770.0748 or garnermarketing@aol.com.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Foxhunting Frenzy

The weather up north has been frightful this year, so it’s little wonder that large numbers of foxhunters have decided to take an Aiken vacation this February. Every year, Whiskey Road Foxhounds’ Hunt Week welcomes scores of horses and riders from Virginia, Maryland, New York, Toronto and other points north for a generous seven days of sport. Hunt week has had a smaller following over the past few years, because of the weak economy and the high price of gas. But this year, according to Gail Flintom who is in charge of the event, the numbers promise to be huge.

“It will be more like the Hunt Weeks of a few years ago,” she says. “We’ll probably have fields of over 100 riders. We’ll divide those into three flights, first flight, second flight and hilltoppers.”

Hunt Week runs from February 3 through 11 and will include five days of live hunting, as well as the opportunity to go out with the Aiken Hounds drag hunt on Saturday morning, February 6. The largest field will be on Sunday, February 7, when the hunt meets at Sage Valley, where there has been some good sport already this season thanks to the large population of coyotes, foxes and bobcats there. This meet will be followed by a hunt breakfast at Sage Valley Hunt Club.

The social calendar begins with a welcoming reception at the Aiken County Historical Museum on Wednesday, February 3. Other events include the Friday night Hunt Ball at Woodside Plantation, the Monday night Hitchcock Woods benefit gala, a cocktail party given by Equine Divine and numerous other parties, hunt teas and hunt breakfasts. When the traveling foxhunters return home, they will probably need some time to rest up from their vacation.

Young Players, High Hopes

Those with an interest in the future of polo often wonder out loud where we will get our next generation of great players. Polo is a difficult sport to play well, and an expensive one, since to improve one generally needs to play with and against better players, riding high quality horses. Unless you are a young person whose father or mother happens to be a high goal player, coaching is often hard to come by.

With these things in mind, the United States Polo Association instituted a new program this year called Team USA. Young people between the ages of 19 and 25 were invited to apply for the program. Twenty-four successful applicants will attend a three-day training and evaluation event in Wellington, Florida from February 13-15. Of the original 24 players, six to eight will be selected to enter an internship with a top-ranked polo professional. The idea is to give talented young players the chance to improve, with the goal of creating more homegrown high goal players.

Of the 24 players selected for the program, six have an Aiken connection. Cristina Fernandez, who just graduated from the University of Virginia where she was the captain of the national championship women’s intercollegiate team, lives and plays in Aiken. Taylor Freeman, who is known for his incredible stickwork in both horse and bicycle polo, is also an Aiken resident. Two brothers chosen for the program, Carlos and Nicolai Galindo, have recently bought property in the county and put up a barn. Jacob Brown, who played here in the Ford Trucks Arena Polo Championship last spring, can occasionally be found playing on Aiken fields with his father Scott and his sister Martha. Finally, Nick Snow, a recent Harvard graduate and an accomplished all-around athlete, is the younger brother of Adam Snow, one of Aiken’s highest rated and most illustrious players.

If the players chosen for Team USA are the future of American polo, then Aiken will clearly continue to play an important role.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Snow Polo

Polo is normally a warm weather sport, played under sunny skies anywhere the grass in green and the field is smooth. But there is also another type of polo that is gaining in popularity: snow polo. Snow polo was first played in the mid 1980s on a frozen lake in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where the annual Polo World Cup on Snow now attracts several 10-goal players every year.

The snow polo rules resemble the rules for arena polo and the players (three to a side) use an inflated bright orange ball to provide a contrast to the white snow. The horses wear high traction snow shoes, and the snow is compacted to make a fast playing surface. The American center for snow polo is Aspen, Colo., the site last December of the tenth annual Piaget Polo on the Snow USPA World Snow Polo Championship.

For the second year in a row, the Crestview Genetics Polo Team, which is based in Aiken, went out for the event. The team, made up of Alan Martinez, John Eicher and Alan Meeker, won the tournament last year. They couldn’t repeat that feat this year, in what is becoming an increasingly high goal tournament with an international flair. The honors went to the Audi team of Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini and Kris Kampsen. Perhaps next year, Crestview will return with the trophy