AIKEN - The Aiken Fall Steeplechase is about horse racing and best hat contests, not politics, organizers said Friday.
Unlike years past, when political activists were seen towing large candidate signs in their truck beds, this year's patrons are limited to bumper stickers, according to a one-sentence warning on the official flier promoting the race.
"We're just trying to minimize the amount of political rivalry," said Paul Sauerborn, the president of the Aiken Steeplechase Association. "We want everyone to have a fun day at the races, not a fight with neighbors."
The policy hasn't ruffled too many feathers, except for one caller who complained about signs on the track's fence that support President Bush, organizers said. The signs were placed by track owners Jack Wetzel and Bruce Duchossois, who allow the Steeplechase Association to use it for the fall race and the higher-profile spring race.
"That's on private property," Mr. Wetzel said. "We're just supporting our candidates."
Politics aside, organizers expect about 8,000 spectators, with the strong possibility of attracting the event's largest crowd ever. Tickets to the guarantor tent, which features a live band and food, and parking spaces on the outside of the rail near the tent have been sold out.
"People are starting to realize the fall is like the spring and they need to buy tickets early," said Mia Brasco, an event coordinator.
The spring race, which is run in March as the second leg of the Triple Crown, attracts more than 30,000 people. The fall race isn't likely to see crowds that large anytime soon unless college football ceases to exist, organizers say.
The fall race has evolved into a smaller version of the more elaborate spring event. It features the highly anticipated hat contest and a contest that challenges visitors to create the most elaborate tailgating setup.
This year's steeplechase, like last year's, features six races.
"The horses are just as good," Ms. Brasco said of the fall race. "The party is just as good."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
What: Aiken Fall Steeplechase
When: Post time for the first race is 1 p.m.
Cost: General admission tickets cost $10. General admission railside packages (two tickets, parking space along the rail) cost $75.