Race Day: Your ‘Need to Know’

With the racing season in full-sprint, it’s time to start looking forward to the fall’s most anticipated horse-racing event in the South. On Nov. 13, the Steeplechase of Charleston will once again have the honor of hosting the final competition on the National Steeplechase Association© circuit at the beautiful Stono Ferry Track in Hollywood, SC.

While offering a myriad of activities–from simply spectating and reuniting, to the Merchant Market, ample food & drink vendors, fashion-watching, and more–the Steeplechase of Charleston promises a unique opportunity to discover history, meet new people, and build new relationships, all while providing a fresh venue to show off your finest digs. With horse racing being the focus of the day, though, here is some history about the sport that you need to know so that you’re on the right track with the other spectators.

Competitors hurdle one of many obstacles in the pursuit of victory.

  • Based on hundreds of years of tradition, the term “Steeplechase” comes literally from horse racing from church steeple to steeple over rugged terrain, with a riding style similar to that of which is required for hunting. A modern, American Steeplechase, or “jump race,” however, is a unique horse-racing event in which skilled jockeys navigate a tracked course of turns while executing 52-inch hurdles at high speed. The races, which range in length (typically 2-3 miles), push riders and the thoroughbred horses to the limits. Relying on their athleticism, strength, and speed, the jockey and horse depend deeply upon one another for their agility, quick decision making skills and sure-footedness.
  • Charleston, SC, is credited for establishing the first Jockey Club in America (1758). After its completion in 1792, Charleston hosted the first Jockey Club Purse at the Washington Course, now known as the circle around Hampton Park. William Washington (founder of the course, and a cousin of George) helped forge a deep-rooted culture of racing. The Washington Course was also the setting for the annual Race Week; a celebration, and week-long culmination of the racing and social elite in the South. With thoroughbreds imported from England, and riches to be won, horse breeding, betting, and racing quickly grew.
  • Although once home to a booming era for the sport, the Civil War decimated horse racing in Charleston and most of the South. With some courses being turned into Prisoner-of-War camps (such as the Washington Course and its club buildings), others were disbanded entirely, while many other tracks, members, and spectators simply lacked the wealth or ability to continue to participate.
  • Thomas Hitchcock, also known as “the father of American steeplechasing,” is largely credited for revitalizing the sport in South Carolina, in stride with F. Ambrose Clark, both of whom had large stables and training centers situated in Aiken in the late-1800s. While keeping traditions such as quality horses, excellent riders, and a place to exhibit the latest fashions–a new era of competition began.

The Steeplechase of Charleston seeks to follow these traditions, and boasts a day-long, family-friendly event of racing, camaraderie, and more, with the gates opening at 8:00 am. After arriving, there will be ample time to soak in the scenery, grab a bite, and check out the creative local artisans at the market before the opening ceremonies, which are scheduled to start at 12:30 pm. Immediately following, there will be five separate races starting between 1-4 pm. Each race will consist of the riders and thoroughbreds facing five different obstacles and four turns per lap, guaranteeing a challenge to the competitors and an exciting series to spectate as we witness the finale of this year’s National Steeplechase Association circuit.

A dressage rider and horse displaying after a performance.

With the option to purchase a Tailgating or General Admission ticket, or to upgrade to a VIP section, the seating availability caters to anyone’s needs and offers multiple viewing angles of the event. Gates close at 5:00 pm, allowing any spectator a great day to relax and marvel at the fashion and sport around them, all while enjoying excellent food, drinks, and the beauty of the Lowcountry.

We hope to see you at the race!