Clouds threatened a downpour, but the weather held steady Saturday for the 46th Renewal of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. Gates opened for the race at 9:30 a.m., and Aiken Department of Public Safety blocked off traffic on Audubon Drive heading into the action at Ford Conger Field. The National Steeplechase Association-sanctioned event's flat and jump races over grass brought in an estimated 30,000 spectators, according to Georgianna Conger, a board member of the Aiken Steeplechase Association. "It was incredible. I don't know what we did to deserve such a beautiful day, but the weather was just perfect," Conger said. Spectators crowded the rails for the races, which began at 1 p.m., and the Carriage Parade, which ran around the track at 1:15 p.m. The races in the Spring Steeplechase brought the winners cash purses as high as the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup, as well as trophies, and, in the outfield, cash changed hands on private wagers more than a few times Saturday. Many railside spectators brought out the tailgating supplies for race-day parties, from fine linens and silver chafing dishes to six-packs and paper towels and every level of formality in between. "I think we have a total of 12, 14 people here today," said tailgate party hostess Ceelie Beacham. "This is our seventh or eighth year at Steeplechase - we're new - and I think the appeal is the snacking, the race watching, the snacking, the betting and the snacking. We also call it grazing." "I've been going to Steeplechase since I was a little girl, and there's just nothing else like it. You're so close to the horses you can feel their hoofbeats coming up the track," said Conger. The community's largest single-day event, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase is the second leg of Aiken's Triple Crown, following the Aiken Trials last weekend. Next weekend brings the final leg of the Triple Crown - Pacers and Polo - to Powderhouse Polo Field.
Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University. She is a native of Augusta, Ga. She was a reporter for the North Augusta Star prior to joining the Aiken Standard staff. Contact Suzanne Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter at #SuzanneRStone and on Facebook at Suzanne Stone | Aiken Standard.