‘A record day’: annual Spring Steeplechase fills Aiken Horse Park
Early Saturday morning the gates at Aiken Horse Park opened and a massive crowd flooded into Bruce’s Field for the annual Spring Steeplechase event.
The event is the second leg of what’s known as the Aiken Triple Crown, and it is one of the largest events that happens in Aiken. This year was the 53rd running of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase.
“The turnout’s fantastic,” said Aiken Steeplechase President Paul Sauerborn at the event on Saturday. “I couldn’t be more happy … I think it’s going to be a record day, a beautiful day, and we hope for a safe day for everyone.”
Sauerborn was thrilled about the weather – cool temperatures and a clear sky – and that people had arrived early, so the traffic wouldn’t be as bad.
Thousands of people were present at the race and hundreds of tailgating tents popped up around the track. Local vendors sold food and souvenirs, and a carriage parade charmed onlookers as it wheeled around the track. The crowd was a sea of bright colors with women in wide-brimmed hats and dresses and men wearing bowties and (some wildly) colorful pants.
“Crazy pants” are actually a tradition at Steeplechase. Each year Rev. Grant Wiseman of St. Thaddeus judges a crazy pants contest at the race. Wiseman himself is known for wearing pants with eclectic, noticeable patterns – this year, they were colored like the American flag.
People from all over the country attend Spring Steeplechase, but familiar faces in Aiken also turn out for the race.
“This will be our 12th year,” said Roberto Aragon, who was playing cornhole with his friends in the tailgating lot. “Honestly, it’s like a reunion for us. We all graduated from USC Aiken.”
“This is like our time to get in touch,” added Lauren Freeman, one of Aragon’s friends. “We come here every year and meet up.”
The race is also a big event for people who moved away from Aiken to return and see friends and family. Terri Cardosi moved away years ago, but she always comes back with her family for the event.
“We’ve been here every year since 1999 in this very spot,” Cardosi said. She and her family and friends had a tailgating lot close to the track.
Kyra Weeks recently moved to Aiken. She and her friends were at the race for the second year, but this was their first time getting a tailgating spot.
“We all just moved to the area, and we actually got a spot this year, so that’s awesome,” Weeks said. “It’s amazing here.”
There is a strong university turnout at Spring Steeplechase. Members of various sororities and fraternities and other clubs and groups from colleges like Clemson, USC Aiken and the University of South Carolina were present.
The Imperial Cup is held during Spring Steeplechase in March every year. In October, the Holiday Cup is held for Fall Steeplechase.
The race is also a big fundraising event for Aiken. Proceeds each year are donated to various local charities and groups, such as Helping Hands Inc, The Cumbee Center and the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.