Horse lovers chomping at the bit for this year's Triple Crown got a preview of the three premier events at a Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday.
"Aiken is the horse capital of South Carolina. We have more horses. Those horses are worth more and they have a greater economic impact than in any other county in the state," said Paul Durban, the chairman of the Aiken chamber's board of directors. He was referring to a recent statewide survey that indicated Aiken County has the Palmetto State's highest equine population. "In March, we truly celebrate the horse."
The Triple Crown, which runs for three consecutive weekends, begins Saturday with the Aiken Trials. The 40th renewal of the Aiken Steeplechase will be held Saturday, March 25, and a polo match on Saturday, April 1, will mark the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Cothran "Cot" Campbell, the president of Dogwood Stable Inc., said the Aiken Trials provide invaluable racing experience for 2-year-old horses.
Dogwood Stable, which buys about 30 horses every year, starts training them to race in September.
"In February, we start asking for some speed," Mr. Campbell said. "In March, the ones that are precocious run in the Aiken Trials."
The Aiken Steeplechase, the second leg of the Triple Crown, attracts about 30,000 people.
Paul Sauerborn, the president of the Aiken Steeplechase Association, said the spring meet has come a long way since the inaugural steeplechase was held at Hitchcock Woods in 1930.
"There were about 1,000 people there on horseback," he said.
The event, which was revived in 1967 after a 25-year period of inactivity, includes six races. The festivities offer something for everyone with shops, contests, a carriage parade and tents with bands, dancing and food.
"There's a lot of entertainment on the day of the race," said Mr. Sauerborn. "There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on."
This is the third year polo will be part of the Triple Crown.
Charles Bostwick, of the Aiken Polo Club, said the organization does not receive any financial benefit from the event.
"All the proceeds that are generated by the game are going toward (University of South Carolina Aiken) athletics," he said.
Mr. Bostwick said Aiken, which currently boasts more than 30 polo fields, has enjoyed a resurgence in the sport in recent years.
Maintenance of Aiken's playing fields, which are 160 yards wide and 300 yards long, costs about $16,000 annually, and the price of a polo horse ranges from $5,000 up to $100,000, Mr. Bostwick said.
The sport has gotten more expensive and more competitive, Mr. Bostwick said, but one thing has remained constant in predicting success on the polo field: "The teams come down to horses."
Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.