The annual Aiken Triple Crown (three consecutive weekends of different horse sports) starts a week later than usual this year. The first event, held Saturday March 19, is the Aiken Trials, a day of racing for young horses that have been training over the winter at the Aiken Training Track. The day usually includes several races for untried 2-year olds, as well as at least one race for older horses.
For the third year, there will also be a race for polo ponies sponsored by The Aiken Horse. The horses will race 300 yards (the length of a polo field) from a standing start. Entrants are required to be actual, experienced polo ponies, preferably ridden by real polo players. The races in 2009 and 2010 were both won by Eli Yale, a former racehorse currently playing at the Aiken Polo Club.
Although it can be a bit difficult to find polo horses that are fit and ready to run so early in the season, players who have participated have enjoyed themselves, and the race is a real crowd pleaser. Polo players who would like to join the action are welcome to put their entries in. If you are interested in racing, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at 803.643.9960. Get those horses fit now!
Spectators who would like to come to the trials should plan to spend the afternoon. In addition to the races, there will be a carriage parade, a tent party, a hat contest, a best carriage contest, best tailgating spot contest and a traveling mariachi band. 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. (www.aikentrainingtrack.com)
The second leg of the Triple Crown will be the Aiken Spring Steeplechase, held on March 26. The spring steeplechase is the first official meet on the National Steeplechasing Association calendar. It is also the largest equestrian spectator event in the area, drawing crowds from local areas as well as from further afield. Railside tailgating spots at the spring steeplechase are sold out months and even years in advance. General admission is always available, however and costs $10 in advance or $15 at the gate. Spectators may also elect to join the party under the tent opposite the finish line, which includes a gourmet lunch and a cash bar. There will also be a dinner and a dance the night before the races. For more information, contact the Steeplechase office at 803.648.9641, or check out the website: www.aikensteeplechase.com.
The final leg of the Triple Crown is the USC Aiken Pacers and Polo Match, which kicks off the spring polo season. This game will take place on Powderhouse Field on Saturday, April 2. The match, which always pulls in a big crowd, is a fundraiser for the University of South Carolina Pacers baseball team.
The night before the game, on Friday, April 1, there will be a party at the fieldside tent. This party, presented by the Equine Steering Committee of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, is the third event of the chamber's Equine Performing Arts Series. Called a "Polo Asado and Tango," it will celebrate polo's South American connection, featuring an Argentine-style barbecue over an open fire.
Over the past few years, there have been quite a number of polo-centered fieldside parties called "tangos." Generally, these have featured eating, drinking and socializing, but no dancing. This party will be different, however. The Mike Frost Trio will be playing and the Palmetto Dance Studio is sending instructors. Adios, muchachos.
For more information or to buy tickets, go to the Aiken Chamber of Commerce website: www.aikenchamber.net.