Aiken Steeplechase Association got its start in 1930
Published in The Journal and Review newspaper in February 1930, the Sports Calendar for Aiken listed a variety of activities for wealthy part-time residents from the Northeast and their friends to enjoy while relaxing in the “Queen of Winter Resorts.”
Among them were field trials for dogs, the Polo Pony Show, the Aiken Horse Show in Hitchcock Woods and the Aiken Preparatory School’s Sports Day.
In addition, there was a new event, the Aiken Steeplechase, which was scheduled for 3 p.m. on March 14 in Hitchcock Woods.
According to the report in the Sports Calendar, the race would be about 3 miles in length and the Eastern Horse Club would give “a Piece of Plate” to the rider of the winning horse.
Earlier that month, a story in the Aiken Standard had announced the formation of the Aiken Steeplechase Association. It stated that “a number of gentlemen” had gathered in the home of Thomas Hitchcock Sr. in January to discuss starting the organization.
Joining Hitchcock in that group were Augustus Goodwin, Temple Gwathmey, Ludlow Kramer, Thomas McCreery and others.
Then, in February, another meeting was held at the “Woolworth House,” a guest cottage owned by Hitchcock where author and sportsman Harry Worcester Smith spent many winters.
Plans for the Steeplechase Association were finalized, and the men chose Hitchcock to be its first chairman. Hitchcock also donated land for the Steeplechase Association’s use.
Prior to then, Hitchcock had played an important role in developing the sport of polo in this country, and he also was one of the United States’ first 10-goal players. In addition, Hitchcock was widely known as the father of American steeplechasing. He also was a well-known horse trainer, and many years later, he would be inducted into thoroughbred racing’s national Hall of Fame.
The first Aiken Steeplechase attracted a crowd of more than 1,000, according to The Journal and Review, which also reported that “scores of people from Camden joined the Aiken winter colony in watching the race.”
Crompton Smith rode Harry Worcester Smith’s Lipingo, a 7-year-old bay gelding, to victory.
The runner-up was Strongbow, a 6-year-old bay gelding owned and ridden by Harry Worcester Smith.
Wayside Stables’ Isabell, a 6-year-old chestnut mare, finished third. R. W. Pomeroy Jr. was her rider.
Steeplechasing was popular in Aiken for a while, but because of World War II and “civic development” enthusiasm waned and the sport died out.
More than 20 years after its demise, steeplechasing returned in the spring of 1967. G. H. “Pete” Bostwick, who would be elected to the national thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame the following year, was the chairman of the revived Aiken Steeplechase Association, and J. Willard Thompson was the general manager.
The Steeplechase and Hunt Race Meet was held April 8 on 75 acres of land near the Aiken Training Track. There were seven races, five of which were sanctioned by the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, and $11,000 in prize money was offered.
Sandhill Flight captured the $3,500 Imperial Cup, and Lucent won the $3,500 Aiken Gold Cup.
In subsequent years, the Steeplechase and Hunt Race Meet was renewed, and it eventually became known as the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. The 51st edition since the sport’s local rebirth is scheduled for today at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field.
Gates will open at 9 a.m., and the post time for the first race is 1 p.m.
The Steeplechase Association now also conducts the Aiken Fall Steeplechase, and the 26th running is scheduled for Oct. 28 at Bruce’s Field.
A framed program for the first Aiken Steeplechase in 1930 hangs on a wall in the Steeplechase Association’s office on Two Notch Road.