Category: History

McPherson Trophy at The Gibbes is a Piece of Charleston History

In 1734, a group of landed gentry founded the South Carolina Jockey Club, still going strong as the SC Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The climate, geographic accessibility and copious open space made the Palmetto State a natural home to the industry.

Fifty-seven years later, with the Revolutionary War hero George Washington in his second year as President, 20 ‘sporting gentlemen’ of the club purchased a tract of land where Hampton Park now resides and developed it into America’s first horse racing track, the Washington Race Course, named in honor of the President. “The Father of Our Country” had visited the track the year before.

Following the 1802 running of the premier event at the racecourse, the Jockey Club Purse, General John McPherson, an officer in South Carolina’s Francis Marion Brigade in the Revolutionary War and a State Senator, commissioned the design of a trophy for the winner. One of the nation’s wealthiest men at the time, McPherson owned six plantations and nearly 500 slaves. He died, along with his daughter, four years later in a shipwreck.

The McPherson Cup was finished in London in 1803 and is described in auction information as a silver trophy featuring a “cat finial atop (a) leaf-decorated domed cover supported on (a) uniform body with (a) conforming design flanked by entwined serpent handles, adorned with applied plaquette depicting (a) racing scene, engraved with (the) McPherson crest and arms, raised on (a) pedestal base with ball feet.”

The trophy was engraved with the name of the 1802 race winner, Roxana and presented at the following year’s race in what was then called “Charlestown.” Hallmarks of the Wilson Fountain foundry can be found on the base of the pedestal.

That trophy is on display at the Gibbes Museum, on loan from John Rivers, a descendant of McPherson, who purchased the trophy to preserve Lowcountry history.

“I bought it at auction and it came through Wade Hampton and the Lowndes Family of Lowndes Grove fame,” Rivers said. “It belonged to my great grandmother, Caroline Hampton Lowndes Mullaley and other descendants of Arthur Middleton,” a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and son of Middleton Plantation’s namesake.

Rivers has been collecting artifacts of Charleston’s early days and now owns a collection with more than 250 historically significant items dating from the late 1600s. “I started my museum with the earliest known signed piece of furniture” a 1733 writing desk. “I said ‘wait a minute, that’s our history; what the heck is it doing in Winston Salem North Carolina? I felt we weren’t paying enough attention to our own history as we should have at the time,” he said.

Rivers also owns the only Charleston-made guns known to exist and a dressing table that crossed the Atlantic six times and survived three fires before returning to the Holy City, according to a 2015 article in ChiefExecutive.net.

These centuries-old objects reflect a Charleston that teemed with the contrasting oppression of slavery and incomparable affluence of white landowners. “From 1740-1846 nine of the 10 wealthiest people in America lived in Charleston,” Rivers notes. “We lose sight of that and how important they were in helping shape the future of our country.”

The trophy is part of The Penkhus Collection of British Sporting Art, which includes homages to early steeplechase races, now on display at the Gibbes Museum.

The South Carolina Jockey Club

A race course is… animated by one absorbing passion. Race horses, shrouded in all the covering of hood and body-clothes, are led on the ground by their faithful grooms. Jockey stands, filled to overflowing with spectators, in their holiday finery, gazing on the passing scene, with eager, happy, and expectant faces… are huddled together…”

With thrilling accuracy, the words from the original agenda of the South Carolina Jockey Club still ring true today. For almost 300 years, South Carolinians have been trend-setters in bringing horse racing to national attention. While today’s itinerary includes horse races across the country, each event can trace ties to these origins. 

The Club’s Beginnings

South Carolina helped to bring horse racing to the regional and the national maps. On February 1st, 1734, the South Carolina Jockey Club was established, superseding the English Jockey Club by 16 years.

The club boasted an elegant exclusivity and featured figurehead members like Daniel Ravenel, John Drayton, and William Moultrie. However, the Revolutionary War interrupted a growing excitement for the club; the South Carolina Jockey Club ceased its participation until the British evacuation in 1783. From there, membership flourished and thus began the “golden age of racing.”

Charleston’s Role

Charleston began hosting annual February races at the York Course in present day North Charleston. The renowned Washington Race Course was the highlight of 10 tracks in the tri-county area and the venue for Charleston’s Race Week. This event disbanded traditional stereotypes– all social classes ventured to participate in the city’s celebrations. Women attended the event, and even had a designated gallery at the Washington Race Course for their viewing pleasure. Four stone pillars adorned the entrance of the Washington Race Course; uniquely, those pillars are proudly featured at the entrance of Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

The abundance of tourists Charleston sees began long before us; as the races grew in popularity during the 1850s, so did their attendees. New York City ships shuttled passengers to the Holy City, and breeders from across the region all wanted entry into the event. Businesses closed, schools dismissed students– daily life practices halted to direct attention to the tracks.

The galivanting regretfully ended with the onset of the Civil War. The war left the Jockey Club in shambles, forcing them to disband in 1899. When the charter ultimately revived in 1984, however, so did the longstanding values of southern honor and individual excellence. The practices and vitality from the original club gave life to the Stono Ferry Plantation. Today, the Steeplechase of Charleston thrives at these tracks and displays generations’ worth of love for horse racing.

Highlights: Steeplechase of Charleston 2020

November 15, 2020, starts with sunshine and smog rolling over the hills of the Stono Ferry Racetrack. Clouds pushing through bringing soft rain throughout the morning as people trickle into place. The skies open up and give way to miraculous sunshine just in time for the races, leading to a gorgeous fall day at Steeplechase of Charleston.

With amazing sponsors and numerous tailgaters, Steeplechase of Charleston 2020 is one for the books. 

The opening ceremonies kick off with a high note as Grammy award-winning artists Quiana Parler and Charlton Singleton from Ranky Tanky perform the National Anthem for Steeplechase of Charleston. All of which stream internationally on the National Steeplechase Association (NSA), Blood Horse, and Horse and Country TV! Click here to watch! 

As the riders begin to take off, Opening Ceremonies sponsor Hopkins Law Firm gave the first “Riders Up!” followed by Mark Peper of Peper Law Firm who also gave a “Riders Up!”

A Crowning Achievement!

Steeplechase of Charleston became the qualifier of NSA’s trainer and jockey of the year Hall of Fame 

trainer,  Jonathan Sheppard, and jockey, Gerard Galligan, who both left with winnings from 4 out of 5 of the races, a total of $50,000 in purse money. Read more about the winners here.

Another big winner? James Schelb winning the first-place raffle prize, a trip to Haig Point on Daufuskie Island! Charlie Black coming in second-place winning the raffle prize of a unique equestrian bottle of Blanton’s Bourbon. The raffle overall raising $2,100 for Hollings Cancer Center. Fun for a good cause!

Vendor Village

Between the races, guests enjoy the opportunity to explore the vendor village. Whether it was holiday shopping for designer boots at Charleston Shoe Co., handmade jewelry from Georgia Jewels, or boutique handbags from Darling Clutch Co., the most extravagant gifts were found!

Then, come time for a recharge, guests stop for a snack at Flight food truck or nitro cold brew from Pourly Grounded Coffee.

A popular destination throughout the day: LuXe Mobile Cigar Lounge.  Guests found an immersive cigar experience and a moment to take in all of Steeplechase.

Enjoyed By All!

Even Southern Charm star Madison LeCroy and The Righteous Gemstones actor Danny McBride are spotted taking in all the excitement of Steeplechase 2020!

The volunteers and Steeplechase team pulled off a wonderful, safe event. 

Thank You!

A huge thank you to all the vendors for providing both their time and their resources to enhance the Steeplechase experience. The day would not have been the same without these amazing businesses and organizations! View the full list of vendors and sponsors here

Steeplechase of Charleston 2020 Results

Steeplechase of Charleston 2020

So, what were the Steeplechase results?

The day of November 15, 2020, starts with sunshine and smog rolling over the hills of the Stono Ferry Racetrack. Clouds pushing through bringing soft rain throughout the morning as people trickle into place. The skies open up and give way to miraculous sunshine just in time for the races, leading to a gorgeous fall day at Steeplechase of Charleston.

There were a total of 5 races throughout the day. First, the Evening Post Cup, with $7,500 in purse money. High Sierra winning this first prize.

Then, the Publisher Cup with another $7,500 in purse money up for grabs. Penitence wins this one. However, High Sierra’s jockey and trainer were riding and training Pentience. Galligan and Sheppard win another cup with a different horse.

Third race up, the Post and Courier Cup with $20,000 up for grabs, the most of each race. Galligan and Shepherd grab a third win on another horse, Bet The Pot.

The fourth cup, Editor Cup (a $15,000 prize), goes to Zoom Zoom Zoe on Galligan and Shepherd yet again!

Finally, the Alston Cup worth $15,000. Dalton and Dalton clench this win from Galligan and Shepherd on horse Mr. Sarinana!

Top winners trainer Jonathan Sheppard and jockey Gerard Galligan leftwith winnings from 4 out of 5 of the races, a total of $50,000 in purse money. Additionally, the duo became NSA’s Hall of Fame trainer and Jockey of The Year. Steeplechase of Charleston was the qualifier for these titles. 

Here’s to Steeplechase of Charleston 2021!

Horse (jockey, trainer)

Evening Post Cup ($7,500 purse)

  1. High Sierra (Galligan, Sheppard)
  2. Lemon Again (Mitchell, Thompson)
  3. Vincent Van Gogo (Watters, Morris)
  4. Western Crusader (Dalton, Dalton)
  5. Lovely Sunset (Geraghty, Gomena)
  6. Duellist (Foley, Davies)

Publisher Cup ($7,500)

  1. Penitence (Galligan, Sheppard)
  2. Yankee Doodle Boy (Foley, Fout)
  3. Sim Card (Dalton, Dalton)
  4. Choklitcoverdonut (Geraghty, Wofford)
  5. Argentic (Macauley, Morris)
  6. Bowled Over (Mitchell, Dowling)

Post and Courier Cup ($20,000)

  1. Bet The Pot (Galligan, Sheppard)
  2. Thomas Cubitt (Mitchell, Young)
  3. Compass Zone (Watters, McDermott)
  4. Sherkali (Macauley, Kingsley)
  5. Eagle Fifty (Foley, Fout)
  6. Thomond Park (Geraghty, Gomena)

Editor Cup ($15,000)

  1. Zoom Zoom Zoe (Galligan, Sheppard)
  2. Notjudginjustsayin (Mitchell, Fisher)
  3. Animal Kingston (Watters, Morris)
  4. Mighty Mark (Dagle, Neilson)
  5. Junonia (Dalton, Morris)
  6. Undisclosed (Foley, Fout)

Alston Cup ($15,000)

  1. Mr. Sarinana (Dalton, Dalton)
  2. Lap of the Gods (Galligan, Sheppard)
  3. Cainudothetwist (Macauley, Kingsley)
  4. Koko Star (Foley, Fout)
  5. Bogey’s Image (Watters, McDermott)
  6. Heaven Made (Geraghty, Sheppard).

 

Steeplechase Around the World

As one of the oldest spectator sports in the world, horse racing, and specifically, the Steeplechase makes its presence known worldwide.

Ireland

The tradition of racing runs very deep in Ireland. It is here that steeplechasing was born; it is here that many of the most illustrious horses in racing history have been bred over the course of several centuries. – Irish Racehorse Trainers Association 

The first recorded steeplechase occurred in Ireland in 1752 between horsemen Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan. They raced the distance between the steeples of churches Buttevant and Doneraile in Cork County. Unfortunately, the winner of this race is still unknown.

The jump racing season spans the entire year, but the majority of the races fall between November and April. The largest races have accompanying festivals, each with their own traditions. The dress code is fairly informal in comparison to other places, except for Ladies Day when women of all ages don their most elegant and extravagant clothes. 

England

spectators at Royal Ascot

Horse racing is one of the largest spectator sports in Great Britain.

The world’s most well-known steeplechase is The Grand National. The event is held at the historic Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. Up to forty runners compete and the purse is £1 million.  Some avid steeplechase fans believe that the race has lost some of its character by implementing changes to the course in recent years (such as softening the fences). However, the race remains a popular and well-attended event. 

Following the dress code is not optional, especially at Royal Ascot, England’s most prestigious horse race. With The Queen and many other royals regularly in attendance, race attendees embrace tradition  and wear their best clothes for the occasion. 

France

Jump racing in France has never quite reached the same level of popularity as in neighboring England and Ireland. Though similar, French jump racing has a few noticeable differences. One of these differences is that the hurdles are not collapsible. Instead, many races have bullfinches, hedges up to 8 ft. tall, that horses have to jump through.

Another difference is that the racehorses are not exclusively Thoroughbreds. AQPS horses, a French breed developed by mixing Thoroughbreds with local breeds and saddle horses, are also used.

Auteuil in Paris is the most well-known racecourse. 

United States

Unlike in England and Ireland, where jump races are referred to as National Hunt Racing, Americans typically refer to jump races as steeplechasing. There are two major divisions: races over hurdles and races over timber fences.

American jump racing occurs in 11 states: South Carolina (obviously!), North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The National Steeplechase Association, founded in 1995, remains the governing body of jump racing in North America. Most tracks in the U.S. are privately owned, with the horses, trainers, and jockeys being independent contractors.

Steeplechase race in Middleburg, Virginia

The largest American steeplechase is the Breeder’s Cup Grand National Steeplechase (previously known as the American Grand National). It draws crowds of 50,000 and has a purse of $500,000.  Race-day fashion in the U.S. is largely focused on the elaborate hats. 

Australia

Jump racing was brought to the Land Down Under by British settlers. The obstacle sizes are reduced here due to an increased emphasis on safety in recent years.

Eagle Farm Racecourse, part of Melbourne Cup festival events 2011 Brisbane, Australia

The Grand Annual steeplechase in Warrnambool has more fences than any other steeplechase and as a whole, Australia has more racecourses than any other nation.

The jump season occurs from March to September, but Saturdays are considered the main day for racing.  Several racing carnivals are held throughout the season, the largest of which is the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.