Thousands of attendees were in a festive mood Saturday as they helped kick off the Triple Crown by cheering on the equine competitors racing in the 71st Annual Aiken Trials.
The Aiken Trials has become an event in which families and friends gather together. On Saturday, many tailgaters grilled out or had large food spreads laid across decorated tables. They played games like cornhole or ladder toss, had a few beverages and enjoyed each other's company.
It's the typical Aiken Trials experience.
“It doesn't get any better than this,” said attendee Kelly Crandall. “Good friends, good food and good times.”
The weather was quite agreeable on Saturday with light winds, sunny skies and warm temperatures. Donna Simpson said the Aiken Trials is an event she'd never miss, reminiscing on past years when the weather wasn't too nice, and she was happy for the sunshine.
“We've been wet, frozen and sunburnt but we were here,” Simpson said. “We still always came out.”
The smell of a variety of foods wafted through the Aiken Training Track where the event was held. Lindsay Williams, who said he has been coming out for almost two decades, had a large grill with two burners on each side cooking hot dogs, hamburgers and kabobs. Williams was cooking for about 50 people from all over, some coming in from as far as Cleveland.
“It's the fellowship and meeting new people,” Williams said when asked what keeps him coming back each year. “I love Aiken and I love to show my city off.”
Williams added that it was a great event to help boost the local economy, especially with so many coming in from out of town to see the races.
Some attendees went all-out with their tailgating decorations. Stacey Wright, originally from St. Louis and currently staying in Blythe, Ga. for the winter, had her party area set up complete with antique wooden fencing, equine memorabilia and a large horse statue decked out with not only a feeding bag but a chef's hat, too.
Wright said the items came from a farm, and she had a lot of fun putting it together as well as getting responses from passers-by.
The most popular color at the Aiken Trials was green, as many attendees wore the color to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, too.
And some were also celebrating their birthday like soon-to-be 9 year-old Patrick Watkins. Robert Watkins, Patrick's father, said his son's birthday isn't until March 21, but they decided to do something at the Aiken Trials while some of the family and other children were all together.
“We enjoy having all the kids here eating cake and having fun,” Robert Watkins said.
The Aiken Trials is for pure exhibition as the results do not affect the horses' records. The event showcases young, up-and-coming race horses who compete in six races.
The Aiken Trials is the first jewel of the Triple Crown which continues Saturday with the Spring Steeplechase.