Originally created 03/19/03

Race-day rain hits Aiken groups

When bad weather hampers Aiken's Triple Crown horse races, it's not the track owners who lose out - officials say it's local civic groups, charities and businesses.

Owners share profits from the three races with the community. When it rains, as it did at Saturday's Aiken Trials, people don't visit Aiken or spend their money there.

Attendance Saturday plummeted to 1,000 visitors compared with 10 times that the year before. Organizers estimate the race brought in 20 percent less money this year over last.

That's money the Aiken Training Track, which plays host to the race, can't reinvest in the track.

But for the Aiken Jaycees, which splits profits evenly with the track, the rain could mean thousands less to spend on projects such as Camp Hope, a summer camp for mentally challenged children at Clemson University.

Wet weather also dilutes the economic benefit expected by Aiken restaurants and hotels.

"The rain and everything just kept everybody away," said Mark Hershner, the manager of the Westside Bowery restaurant.

Ron Stevens, the president of the Aiken Training Track's board of directors, wouldn't specify how much the track profits from the Aiken Trials. But ticket prices range from $5 for general admission to more than $75 for reserved spaces along the track.

The day was partially salvaged because about 75 percent of the event's nonrefundable tickets were sold before the race. Organizers are considering refunds for patrons who attended the race and were disappointed.

"A lot of them have said, 'Forget about it,' and we appreciate that," Mr. Stevens said.

The forecast for Saturday's Steeplechase race calls for sunshine. That's good news for organizers, who expect about 30,000 visitors.

The Aiken Steeplechase Association coordinates the event with the Sertoma Club, which gets a share of ticket and parking sales the day of the event. Those sales generated about $25,000 last year, said Bernie Kane, a member of the Steeplechase Association Board of Directors.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.


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