Chill ideal for horses, not so much for crowds
The inaugural Georgia Steeplechase at Kingston Downs dodged a bullet from the weatherman from the equestrian perspective. The chilly thermometer coupled with brisk winds kept attendance to a fraction of what the thoroughbred racing event has drawn in the past.
“At least it’s not raining,” said Anthony Scott Hobbs during ceremonies to open the event he and his wife, Phoebe Hobbs, took the reins of last year after the Atlanta Steeplechase folded its party tent. “We’re excited about trying to keep this tradition going,” Hobbs told the crowd. “It’s a family tradition. We’re looking forward to keeping some great memories alive.”
Trainer Richard Hendriks said it was wonderful that the Hobbs-led group started the meet up again.
“Atlanta has always been a special place for me,” Hendriks said. He rode as a jockey in the old Atlanta Steeplechase before turning to the training side of the industry over 20 years ago, and has been bringing horses to Georgia for most of those years.
The total prize money available for competitors in the four races was $95,000.
Hendriks said the National Steeplechase Association had done a good job of trying to make sure the purses were as attractive as possible. At one time years ago, the featured race in the Atlanta Steeplechase paid $100,000 in prize money.
“The more money you bring, the more horses you bring, the more people you bring into your sport,” Hendriks said.
Hendriks started the event right with his horses finishing first with Gotta Get Away and second with Cheers to Us in the opening race, followed by another first place finish in the second race with Go Get the Basil.
Trainers were virtually unanimous in their excitement that the Georgia stop on the steeplechase circuit was still on the schedule.
“This place has a lot of potential,” said Jack Fisher. “You look at the champions that have come out of this place.”
Fisher said the course was in great condition considering no one had been taking particular care of it for much of the past year. The Hobbs group secured the rights to race last fall, about six months after the Atlanta Steeplechase shut down its operation.
Jonathan Sheppard, another veteran trainer, said one of the best things about the race at Kingston Downs was that fans could see virtually the entire race looking out from a ridge that overlooks a natural bowl in a bend of the Etowah River.
“I haven’t missed too many years,” Sheppard said. He said the prize money for the first Georgia Steeplechase was “acceptable.”
“There aren’t too many people in this thinking they’re going to make a lot of money, but at least there’s an opportunity to get some of it back,” said Sheppard.