Three benefit walks and the Aiken Steeplechase will draw thousands of spectators and participants from Augusta to Aiken.
A record-breaking crowd of 35,000 people is expected at Ford Conger Field for the Aiken Steeplechase, said event spokesperson Cecil Atchley. The steeplechase is the second leg in the Aiken Triple Crown held over three consecutive Saturdays in March.
A cash purse of $110,000 will be awarded for six races. People from across the world are drawn to the equine event popular for tailgates and springtime attire.
“Steeplechases started 200 years ago in England, Ireland and that area. They raced one church steeple to the next jumping over fences and such,” Atchley said.
The Aiken Steeplechase benefits the Aiken Rescue Squad and Helping Hands Inc., an agency serving abused, abandoned and neglected children.
The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office will increase its presence at the event from 10 officers to a minimum of 30 uniformed and undercover officers, said Capt. Troy Elwell.
“The steeplechase was understaffed and we need more officers to make sure the patrons are safe,” he said. “The majority of our focus is within the gates. Highway patrol helps us outside as people drive home.”
Rain, however, could put a damper on things. A 70 percent chance of rain is forecast for today, said meteorologist Dave Schuetrum of the National Weather Service in Columbia. Afternoon brings the best chance of rain and a thunderstorm, but morning precipitation is possible,
Morning temperatures in the low 60s will increase to a forecasted high in the mid 70s.
In Augusta, hundreds of walkers will walk to raise money for debilitating diseases and shelter animals.
An estimated 250 people are expected to walk five kilometers around Lake Olmstead raising funds for multiple sclerosis research and education, said Laurie Palmer, the development manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Money also helps fund modifications to make homes more accessible for people affected by the disease.
“A lot of people that participate have a connection to MS whether it’s family, friends or coworkers,” Palmer said.
The Augusta event, one of four multiple sclerosis walks held today across Georgia, set a $30,000 fundraising goal.
An awareness walk for Lou Gehrig’s Disease will also draw more than 200 people to Riverwalk Augusta, said Liza Nordmark, the spokesperson for the ALS Association of Georgia.
“It’s such a great event to have patients and family and friends there together. It’s a celebration,” Nordmark said.
More than $20,000 of the $40,000 goal has been raised. Dr. Michael Rivner, the director of MCGHealth ALS Clinic, will speak during the opening ceremonies.
Paws in the Park, a fundraiser for the CSRA Humane Society, will be held at the local animal shelter.
People can bring their own dogs for a walk on the Augusta Canal towpath or give a donation to walk a shelter pet, said Raynette Mayer, CSRA Humane Society board president. A microchip clinic for pets will be offered at the event for $25 per animal.