The Aiken Trials are a chance for rookie horses to race and the whole town comes out to celebrate.
“It’s just a big party,” said Priscilla Jordan, an Aiken resident who sipped mint juleps with friends on the track sideline.
Jordan and her friends Katrina Becker and Jacqueline Ohrstrom said they come every year to the Trials, a community event that celebrated its 70th running this year.
“The Aiken Trials always have a great local turnout, and it’s just so much fun,” Ohrstrom said.
Becker has had horses compete in past years, and she said although all of the horses aren’t from Aiken, there are some owned by locals.
“We like to root for anyone hometown here,” she said.
Al Darlington trained thoroughbred horses for many years at Buckland Farm in Aiken, and he said the Trials give up-and-coming racehorses a first taste of the crowds and noise present in a race environment. Sometimes new horses distinguish themselves at the Trials, but it’s mostly an introduction to racing.
“It’s a coming-out party,” Darlington said.
The Trials consist of six races, the first three are a quarter of a mile and the last three are four and one-half furlongs. Horses are as young as 2 years old and usually no older than 3 years. It is an exhibition race and no prize money is given. The sixth and last winner of the day is given the City of Aiken Trophy.
Mobil Unit, owned by Gus Schickendanz and Don Howard and ridden by Salvatore Torres, won the sixth trial and the trophy, tying the trial record for 53 3/5 seconds.
James Gaver’s father, John Gaver, was a renowned horse trainer for Greentree Stables and is the namesake for the first race’s Gaver Trophy. James Gaver said what keeps people coming to the races is hard to describe.
“People really enjoy horses as animals, and then the excitement of the races on top of that,” he said. “Horseracing was my father’s oxygen, and so many people love it.”