Fans of thoroughbred racing and hearty breakfasts have fond memories of James “Pockets” Carter, who died Nov. 18 after decades of serving up fluffy omelets, crisp bacon and rich, buttery grits to Aiken residents and visitors.
With his wife, Carol, Carter owned and operated the Track Kitchen on Mead Avenue. The small restaurant is a popular gathering place for horsemen who work at the nearby Aiken Training Track.
Many others, however, are among the regular diners at the Track Kitchen, where the portions of food are generous and the atmosphere is friendly.
“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about that man,” said trainer Ron Stevens of Carter. “He used to cater a lot of the parties we had before the Aiken Trials at Dogwood Stable, Stevens Race Stable and Legacy Stable. He also used to deep-fry turkeys at Thanksgiving. I would get one every year, and they were delicious.”
Stevens also enjoyed talking to Carter.
“Every time I saw him, he had a big smile on his face. He would chat about horses and Aiken. I had great admiration for him.”
Carter, 79, was born in Camden. When he came to Aiken in 1957, he had a job galloping horses at the Training Track. During his career in the thoroughbred industry, Carter also worked as a groom.
He spent a lot of time at Belmont Park in New York, but he also traveled to many other places, including Florida, Louisiana and Michigan.
“Well, when I was working at King Ranch in Texas, there were two men named James,” Carter told the Aiken Standard in 2004, when asked about his nickname. “My boss, Mr. Miller, said he had to separate us somehow. He said I always had my hands in my pockets, so he called me ‘Pockets,’ and the name stuck.”
In 1978, Carter and his wife acquired the Track Kitchen, and Carter turned to his cooking skills to make a living.
For a while, he had a food truck that he drove to the different barns around the Training Track.
“Pockets was an amazing person who willingly shared his love of horses, thoroughbred racing and cooking with all who walked through the door of the Track Kitchen,” said Lisa Hall, coordinator of the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. “He was an amazing ambassador for Aiken. While his passing leaves a hole that can’t be filled, Aiken was and is a better place because he called it home.”
Equine photographer and Mosaic Racing Stable Senior Partner Barry Bornstein wrote in a Facebook post that Carter was “a real horseman who provided us with a firsthand history of horse racing that can never be replicated.”
Bornstein, who is an enthusiastic Track Kitchen customer, is a member of the Training Track’s board of directors and the Hall of Fame and Museum’s advisory board.