First leg of Aiken Triple Crown is family affair for some horse racing fans

AIKEN — Attending the running of the Aiken Trials is a tradition that has spanned generations in the McMurtrie family.

“We’ve been doing this since the ’60s,” said Susie Mc­Murtrie Rutherfurd.

For Rutherfurd, her six siblings and their families, the first leg of Aiken’s Triple Crown is the occasion for a family reunion. On Saturday, at the 71st running, there were about 40 people gathered at the McMurtrie spot next to the big oak tree at the Aiken Training Track’s infield rail.

Kelly McMurtrie said she can’t remember her life without the horse-racing event, and she can’t recall her first trip there.

“I was probably about 1,” said the 23-year-old, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Diane and Walter Daniell have been track neighbors of the McMurtries for about 20 years.

“This is our first social event of the year,” said Diane Daniell, who was thrilled that her grandchildren, Chase Sturkie, 8, and Bailey Stur­kie, 4, were attending for the first time.

There were about 25 friends and family members in the Daniell group.

“I grew up in Aiken. We always come to the Triple Crown,” said Carol Hayes, a friend of Daniell. “It’s a chance for us to get together on a gorgeous afternoon.”

While Saturday’s 70-plus degree temperatures were perfect, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but that isn’t a deterrent to the die-hards in both groups.

“We get here before anyone else, and we are here until it’s done,” Deborah Mc­Murtrie said. “We are here during the snow and rain. We would not miss it except for serious, life-threatening illnesses.”

Not all of the McMurtrie clan could make it as members have moved to various parts of the country. Last year, Deb­orah Mc­Murtrie’s daughter flew from California to attend the equine events.

“She could pick Christmas or the Trials, she chose the Trials, and she wrapped her trip around so she and her son could attend the Trials and the Steeplechase,” McMur­trie said.

The next leg of the Triple Crown is the Steeplechase, which will be March 23.

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