AIKEN -- Ford Conger would be proud of the progress the Aiken Fall Steeplechase has made.
Mr. Conger started the event in 1992 but died the following summer. Over the years, the fall meet sponsored by the Aiken Steeplechase Association has grown into a six-race event this year with the featured race, the Holiday Cup, offering a purse of $10,000.
"It was my father's dream to have this race take off and be popular," said Georgianna Conger, daughter of the Aiken horseman. "I know he's proud of it."
The spring race, part of Aiken's Triple Crown series, is the big brother to the fall meet. For many years the spring race struggled to survive, Ms. Conger said, but her father stuck with it and turned it into a top event.
"We have a smaller turnout (in the fall), but that makes it more fun," said Ms. Conger, a member of the steeplechase's board of directors.
The sixth annual event will be Saturday at Ford Conger Field. A total of 87 horses were entered, but not all will compete because of safety concerns. All races will cover about 21/4 miles.
The gates off Two Notch Road open at 10 a.m. Saturday. Post time for the first race is 1 p.m.
General admission is $8 in advance and $10 on race day. Students can purchase tickets for $5 with a student identification. A parking fee of $5 will also be charged.
A crowd of about 10,000 is expected to attend Saturday's races. The Aiken Pep Band will perform before the races. The popular Village of Shops will be set up in the infield with various vendors selling clothing, arts and crafts, and food.
Among the top horses competing in the Holiday Cup are Doubledarn, Eskimo Cove and Tommy Hawkins, Ms. Conger said.
"In our big race, we've got three really nice horses," she said. "They're all very well known. It's just an honor to have these guys in the race."
Doubledarn is owned by William C. Lickle and trained by Ricky Hendrix. Eskimo Cove is owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, one of the circuit's top trainers over the last several years. Tommy Hawkins is trained by Neil Morris and owned by Kinross Farms, which will also enter Bovari in the featured race.
An oyster roast will be tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Track Kitchen on Mead Avenue. Tickets are $20 and proceeds will benefit the Aiken Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and STAR program.
Tickets can be purchased at these locations: Aiken Chamber of Commerce, Aiken Drug, Aiken Saddlery, Lominick Pharmacy, North Augusta Chamber of Commerce, Palmetto Federal, Plum Pudding, Southern Saddlery, Stoplight Deli and Woodruff Drug.
For more information call (803) 648-9641.