Sun, fun mark Steeplechase; 46th renewal draws 30,000

RALLY BY THE RAILS: Chris Warner and his 3-year-old son, Gray, cheer as the horse rush by them on the track at the spring Steeplechase on Saturday. Gray’s sister Ella, 6, and their grandmother, Maureen Warner, also watch the races. Clouds threatened a downpour, but the weather held steady, providing a sunny atmosphere for the 46th renewal of the second leg of the Aiken Triple Crown.

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.

View the 46th renewal of the Aiken Steeplechase Focus on You Gallery.

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 sstone@aikenstandard.com, or follow on Twitter at #SuzanneRStone and on Facebook at Suzanne Stone | Aiken Standard.