The Aiken Steeplechase Association is getting ready for a big move.
Plans call for the organization to begin offering its two annual events – the Aiken Spring Steeplechase and the Aiken Fall Steeplechase – at a new venue in the near future.
The relocation is scheduled to take place following the 2021 Spring Steeplechase at Bruce’s Field.
Exactly where the new site will be is still under discussion.
“We have yet to establish a spot for our permanent home, but we’re doing our due diligence,” said Paul Sauerborn, president of the Aiken Steeplechase Association. “We have several properties that are on the table that we’re not at liberty to talk about right now.”
He added that all of those real estate options are in Aiken County.
“We’re very excited,” Sauerborn said. “Nobody is going to be left behind. We’re going to take care of our patrons during the transition when the time comes.”
The Aiken Horse Park Foundation owns Bruce’s Field, which is on the corner of Audubon Drive and Powderhouse Road, near downtown Aiken.
Sauerborn told the Aiken Standard in March that the Steeplechase Association was “actively looking” for a new venue, and he previously had discussed, with the newspaper, his organization’s desire to find another site for its horse races.
Attendance at the Spring Steeplechase has reached more than 30,000, and the Fall Steeplechase usually attracts 10,000 to 15,000 spectators.
Early Saturday morning the gates at Aiken Horse Park opened and a massive crowd flooded into…
In recent years, the space available for steeplechase events at Bruce’s Field has decreased because of the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s efforts to develop a major equestrian center there.
Barns, show rings and an office building have been constructed on the property.
Hunter/jumper, Special Olympics, dressage and eventing competitions are held at Bruce’s Field in addition to the Fall and Spring steeplechases.
“It’s just the right time for us to move,” Sauerborn said. “The Spring Steeplechase has outgrown it (Bruce’s Field) so badly that we finally made a board decision that we had to go ahead and do something.
“We are to the point where we have to turn people away, and we don’t feel like we can continue to do that,” he continued. “The Spring Steeplechase is a community event, and our community is growing. We also want to expose other communities to our wonderful event, and we can’t do that where we are now.”
Aiken horseman Bruce Duchossois purchased the property that became Bruce’s Field in 2000.
Prior to his death in 2014, Duchossois established the Aiken Horse Park Foundation to carry out his vision to create a state-of-the-art facility with an old-fashioned feel.
Before Duchossois acquired it, the land was known as Clark Field, and steeplechasing was a well-established tradition there.
In the Steeplechase Association’s effort to relocate, “we have the support of the City of Aiken, Aiken County and the Aiken Horse Park Foundation,” Sauerborn said. “Everybody is going to pitch in and try to help us out, and we’re working hard to make it happen.”
Horse Park Foundation Vice President and Treasurer Tara Bostwick confirmed that her organization would be providing assistance to the Steeplechase Association.
“We are absolutely, 100 percent in full support of their plan to secure their own venue,” she said. “Because of the tradition that steeplechasing has in Aiken, we are prepared to make a significant contribution to the Aiken Steeplechase Association to support the realization of their vision. We want them to be successful, and we’re doing everything we can to help them.”
Bostwick, who declined to provide details about the Horse Park Foundation’s “contribution,” believes a steeplechase venue separate from Bruce’s Field would create a win-win situation.
“The opportunity for them (the Steeplechase Association) to have a true steeplechase venue would enhance their race-day experience, and they could have a bigger course,” she said. “That would help keep steeplechasing a vital part of our community. It also would allow us to make improvements that we have not done before because they would have interfered with the steeplechase event days. Those improvements would continue to grow the status of our facility; and we would be able to attract more high-quality equestrian events, which would be great for the equestrian community here and Aiken as a whole.”
Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian told the Aiken Standard that he had been “involved in one meeting to discuss this, and the City of Aiken was at the meeting, too. No commitments were made that day by the county.”
Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the Steeplechase Association has been “keeping us informally informed as they move through this process.
“We certainly recognize the value of the Steeplechase Association and their events to the city,” he added. “It will be very exciting to see where they go from here with this.”