With champagne, crab cakes, Bud Light and hot dogs, an expected 35,000 people gathered behind pickups and under tents Saturday for the Aiken Steeplechase, the second leg of Aiken’s Triple Crown.
“It’s a beautiful day for a race,” said Tiffany Smith, who was serving shrimp skewers, crab cakes, crudite and more out of her white, fully enclosed tent settled right up against the rails of the race track.
Her guests sipped white wine or champagne around tall tables covered with white table cloths. She used bright flowers in wine bottles as centerpieces. Each of the women around the tables wore colorful, billowing hats. Some had feathers, others stripes or flowers. Smith, who is from Atlanta, said she brings a different group of friends each year.
“This is my favorite event of the year,” she said. “I want to share this gorgeous area with as many people as I can.”
To her left, Billy Teloff and Frank Messer, both of Macon, drank light beer and ate grilled chicken and hamburgers under a red Georgia Bulldogs tent. Their wives stuck with baseball caps.
“That’s the beauty of the steeplechase,” Messer said. “We all enjoy it in our own way.”
More than 40 horses rode in the six races of the 46th running, competing for cash purses totalling $110,000.
In the James W. Maloney race, the second of the day, Classic Bridges took first place. Trainer Neil R. Morris was all smiles.
“We got the job done,” the Middleburg, Va., resident said. “The jockey rode him very confidently. We came here to win, and we did.”
Morris had a horse racing in another state, too, but attended Aiken’s event because of the atmosphere.
“The sun always shines in Aiken,” he said.
Although the rain did threaten a few times, the track stayed dry for the races.
Classic Bridges’ jockey, Jacob Roberts, was also pleased with the horse’s performance.
“The race went awesome,” he said. “The horse did his thing, which made my job easy.”
Roberts said he always enjoys the steeplechase because of the crowd’s support.
“You can hear them cheering all the way around the track,” he said.
Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot planned to race two horses but one ended up hurting its leg. She still brought Red Letter Day, who competed in The W.C. Jackson race, the first of the day and the only one without any jumping.
Elliot said the Aiken track is good because of the high-quality grass and thorough irrigation. She said it is a smaller oval that horses seem to like.
Plus, she is always impressed with the audience.
“It’s a very welcoming event,” she said. “Look at all the tents out there.”
Jamie and Edith Smuter, of Pennsylvania, sat on the benches outside the VIP tent enjoying food and beverages.
Edith Smuter showed off her wide-brimmed white and pink hat, which had a nest with a little red bird peeking out.
“I make a hat every year,” she said, adding that she has not missed the event in more than a decade. “This is a creation special for the steeplechase. I saw a bird that looked like this down here last year and decided it would be my inspiration.”