Aiken Training Track continues to face challenges while making improvements to facilities

March 16, 2018 GMT

While discussing the future of the Aiken Training Track recently, President Cary Frommer said she was “guardedly optimistic” even though the facility for thoroughbred racehorses continues to face challenges.

In 2015, the Training Track lost its biggest stable when the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, decided to shut down his local training operation.

The Training Track suffered another major blow last year when its chairman and CEO, Bill Simpson, died in July after working hard to improve its financial stability.

“That was horrible because he was such a lightning rod for change and getting us organized,” said Frommer, who is a thoroughbred trainer. “He was always thinking and up until his last day, he was sending me notes about stuff to do, literally.

“He did an amazing job of rearranging our financials, making them a lot more palatable. He refinanced a loan we had at a much lower interest rate, and now the payment is less than half the amount it was. That has taken a lot of pressure off.”

Simpson also organized a celebration for last year’s 75th edition of the Aiken Trials that included a flyover by vintage airplanes and an appearance by the Wells Fargo Stagecoach.

He said his goal was to make the first leg of Aiken’s Triple Crown more of a community event, and he wanted to make special activities a permanent part of Trials programs going forward.

For this year’s 76th Trials on Saturday, there will be a Kids Corral, with inflatables, in the Training Track’s infield, and pony races featuring children and teenagers as jockeys.

“We are trying to make the Trials into even a bigger deal than they already are to bring in more income,” Frommer said. “We want them to become more family-oriented and more profitable.”

On March 25, there will be a new fundraiser called Ride the Rail, which will offer members of the public the opportunity to ride their horses on the Training Track.

“There has been a lot of interest in that,” Frommer said.

Under Frommer’s leadership, the Training Track also has been upgrading its amenities. Those initiatives have included the renovations of a barn and the refurbishing of some paddocks.

In addition, a turf course has been created in the Training Track’s infield.

“We’ve got the basic shape of it mapped out, and we’re going to keep maintaining it and make improvements,” Frommer said.

Efforts to attract more horses and their trainers to the Training Track are ongoing, but it has been a struggle.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Frommer said. “Aiken is off the beaten path (from where thoroughbred sales are conducted and races are regularly held).”

In the early 1980s, more than 400 horses spent the winter at the Training Track. During the 2016-17 winter season, there were 125 to 130, Frommer said last year.

The increase in the popularity of year-around racing, which stopped many stables from taking a winter break from competition, contributed to the decline. So did the growth of Ocala, Florida, as a training center and the deaths of trainers who had supported the Training Track for many years.

The Training Track’s horse total for the 2017-18 winter season hasn’t been finalized yet.

Frommer’s stable is the largest.

“I’ve kept a steady 50 to 60 horses at the track,” said Frommer, who also has thoroughbreds at a farm near Montmorenci.

Other trainers with horses at the Training Track for the 2017-18 season included Mike Keogh with 22, Brad Stauffer and Ron Stevens of Legacy Stable with 18 and Glenn Thompson with 12.

A new stable, Margy Alexander and Catlyn Spivey’s Red Foxx LLC, had five horses.

“We still have to watch expenses, but I think we can keep the Training Track going,” Frommer said. “It’s such a terrific and unique place to train.”

The Training Track, which was built in the early 1940s, is at 538 Two Notch Road S.E.