Charleston has a very rich history of horse racing beginning with its first recorded race on February 1, 1734. A small piece of their English heritage, horse racing was wildly popular and provided a sense of home for early settlers. But with hard times after the Civil War, the sport began to dwindle.
In 1984, the Charter of The South Carolina Jockey Club was renewed and held its first race, The Inaugural Charleston Cup. Since then, the cup has continued as a Charleston tradition, with this year’s being the 19th running of the horses.
Now considered the social event of the season, over 16,000 spectators flock to the greens on race day. Donning wide rimmed hats and carrying picnic baskets full of Southern favorites, race-goers enjoy a full day of tailgating and tournaments. The much anticipated weekend also includes a black-tie gala on the Friday before the race.
Thoroughbreds are shipped in for the races and run under the sanction of the National Steeplechase Association. The steeplechase race, different from traditional flat racing, includes hurdles – making it more dangerous and exciting. Jockeys in steeplechase races are also typically larger because they need a better grip on the horse as it makes its jumps. “The race track is one mile with six fences or hurdles. Horses go around twice, making each race two laps long,” explains Karl McMillan, race director for the Cup.
Winners of the race receive a hefty purse in addition to bragging rights for the year.
For more information, visit charlestoncup.net.
Photos by Tag Your Pix