Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aiken’s Triple Crown

If it’s spring, that means it’s time for the Aiken Triple Crown, the three-weekend-long celebration of horse sports that includes The Aiken Trials, The Aiken Steeplechase and the USC Aiken Pacers and Polo match. These three events are among the biggest spectator sports on Aiken’s equestrian calendar. The spring steeplechase is undoubtedly the largest draw, bringing in as many as 20,000 spectators to Ford Conger Field for a day of racing and socializing in the sun. Steeplechase weekend (March 19-20) always includes a gala party under the trackside tent the night before the races. This year, the party is called “The Great Gatsby,” and will feature music by Too Much Sylvia. Proceeds benefit Public Education Partners. Contact the Aiken Steeplechase office for reservations to the party or for tickets to the races. (803.648.9641.) Or visit the website for more information. www.aikensteeplechase.com

The first weekend of the Aiken Triple Crown is the Aiken Trials, a day of racing for fledgling race horses at the Aiken Training Track. The trials have been an annual tradition in Aiken since 1942, providing young horses the opportunity to experience a real race in front of a crowd before they head out to the parimutuel tracks.

This year, the Aiken Trials will take place on Saturday, March 13. The day will feature six races, four of them for 2-year-old maidens, and one, the Cup of Aiken, for older horses that have already won a race. One race (probably the third) will be the polo pony race sponsored by The Aiken Horse. Last year was the first time that the polo pony race was held at the Trials, and it was a big success. There were six entries, all proven polo ponies ridden by actual polo players. The horses raced 300 yards (the length of a polo field) from a standing start. The winner, Eli Yale, set a track record of 17 seconds. Eli is a former racehorse and the grandson of the great Storm Cat, but his Trials win was the first of his career. He is expected to return to defend his title.

Polo players who have a fast horse should start getting ready now. All horses in the race must be playing ponies, and all riders must be polo players. If you are interested in racing, send an email to editor@theaikenhorse.com, or give us a call at 803.643.9960.

If you would like to watch the races, gates open at 10:30. The events start off with the Aiken Driving Society carriage parade at 1 pm, followed by the first race. The races are usually over by around 4:30. Tickets may be purchased in advance at various locations, including Boots, Bridles and Britches and Aiken Saddlery. If you buy in advance, tickets are $10. They’re $15 on the day of the races.

Other events surrounding the Aiken Trials include Breakfast at the Gallops, a popular morning program that will take place at the Training Track on Thursday, March 11, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. This will be a fundraiser for the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and will feature local trainers who will discuss horses and horse training. Tickets are limited, and this is often a sold out event. Finally, on March 14, the racehorse Quality Road will be honored as the Aiken Trained Horse of the Year at 12:30 pm in the courtyard of the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in Hopeland Gardens. For more information, visit the Aiken Training Track website: www.theaikentrainingtrack.com or the Hall of Fame website (www.aikenracinghalloffame.com) or call 803.642.7650.

The final leg of the Triple Crown, the USC Aiken Pacers and Polo Match, is the first official polo event of the spring season. It will take place on Powderhouse Field on Saturday, March 27. This match usually pits a Burger King team against a Biddle Realty team, and is one of the best attended polo contests in Aiken. The game is a benefit for the University of South Carolina Pacers baseball team. In addition to horse polo, it will also showcase a bicycle polo exhibition, put on by Boxwood Bicycle Polo Club.

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