AIKEN - Grab your picnic baskets and cameras. It's supposed to be a picture-perfect day for the 35th running of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase.
Officials at the National Weather Service are predicting plenty of sunshine today with a light morning wind and a cool afternoon breeze. Forecasters say it will be a day similar to Friday.
"You can't ask for a better day," said Georgianna Conger-Wolcott with the Aiken Steeplechase Association. "I think we're going to have people coming out in droves."
Horses will jump the hurdles today in six races. In between, spectators can enjoy watching the Budweiser Clydesdales and a parade of 14 carriages.
Gates open at 9:30 a.m. at Ford Conger Field, at Powderhouse Road, with post time for the first race at 1 p.m. Tickets at the gate cost $15.
Organizers expect large crowds today and recommend spectators arrive early.
Those who don't have reserved parking must use the general admission areas - the polo fields on Powderhouse Road - and walk across the street to Ford Conger Field. If the lot sells out, the only other option is infield parking for $25. Entry and parking areas are well-marked with new signs, Ms. Conger-Wolcott said.
This second event of the Aiken Triple Crown annually draws crowds of 20,000 to 30,000. Last weekend, the Aiken Trials kicked off with the 59th running of the flat races. The last leg in the Triple Crown is the Aiken Harness Races on March 31.
The Aiken Steeplechase is part of the National Steeplechase Association, a circuit that includes about 40 meets along the Atlantic Seaboard. Purses totaling about $85,000 will be awarded today along with trophies commemorating Aiken's steeplechasing tradition.
A bonus to this year's activities is the Budweiser Clydesdales, who will make an appearance at the Aiken Steeplechase from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The horses make hundreds of public appearances each year and log about 100,000 miles annually. They came to Aiken from the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah a week ago and will be heading next to Richmond, Va.
At about 2 p.m., in between the second and third races, there will be a parade of 14 carriages, all four-in-hand - one driver controlling four horses. The carriage owners are members of either the New York Coaching Club or the newly-formed Four-in-Hand Club.
"Very seldom do you see 14 four-in-hands together," said Linda Kennard of Louisville, Kent., who will drive one of the carriages. "So it's an extremely successful event for both clubs."
The carriages date back more than 100 years and have been fully restored. The horses in today's parade represent several breeds - the Gelderlanders, Andulusians, Percheron crosses, Hanoverians, standardbreds and thoroughbreds.
Before they come to Ford Conger Field, the members of the two clubs will be driving the carriages from Green Boundary Club on Whiskey Road through historic Aiken.
Considered the most elegant of the three Triple Crown events, the Steeplechase is an outdoor party under tents filled with good food, drink and music. The mixed crowd includes tailgaters in shorts and shirts and the more fashionably attired who prefer coat and tie or fancy hats and stylish dresses.
For shopping convenience, a bazaar - the Village of Shops - is located on the infield, selling crafts, sunglasses, T-shirts, paintings, jewelry, fine apparel and more food and drink.
The Steeplechase is a charitable event with proceeds benefiting Helping Hands, the Aiken Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Steeplechase Injured Jockey's Fund and the Aiken Rescue Squad.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.