Originally created 03/15/06

Horse track turns out champions



Dec. 7, 1941 - the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - also marks a significant occasion in Aiken's equine history.

That afternoon, six of the nine board members of the Aiken Training Track agreed to loan $500 each to the organization they had founded seven months earlier.

According to the minutes of the special meeting, the organization needed $3,142.30 to settle its debts, and additional work was needed on the track.

For 64 years, the track has been the site of the Aiken Trials, the first leg of the Triple Crown.

According to the minutes of the first stockholders' meeting, April 25, 1941, William Post proposed to lease the track for three years for $1,500 annually, with the option to renew the agreement.

"The Posts were the ones that I identified with the beginnings of the track," said William Tucker, the secretary-treasurer of the Aiken Training Track board.

Ira Coward was paid $300 to oversee the construction of the track, Mr. Tucker said, and his grandson, Ed Coward, is the current track superintendent.

"There have been three generations of the Coward family that have been involved in the maintenance of the track," he said.

The mile track has a red-clay base and a sandy loam cushion.

Some of the most recognizable names in American horse racing have trained thoroughbreds at the track, including MacKenzie "Mack" Miller, W.C. "Mike" Freeman, Buddy Raines, Ron Stevens and Dogwood Stable Inc.

Thirty-eight champions have trained at the track, including 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero. Not all of the horses showed their potential right away.

Dogwood Stable President Cothran "Cot" Campbell, who trained Summer Squall, recalled the Aiken debut of the 1990 Preakness Stakes winner.

When the starting bell rang, four of the five horses thundered out of the gates, he said at a recent Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce meeting.

"Summer Squall was gazing out in the infield, and Summer Squall was left at the post," Mr. Campbell said.

Evidently, the thoroughbred was a quick study.

"He won the first race in Lexington (Ky.) by 13 lengths," Mr. Campbell said.

The track received a helping hand from the city of Aiken in its first five years. It was exempted from city taxes and the public works department furnished the track with water.

The track has returned the favor, Mr. Tucker said. Proceeds from the Aiken Trials were donated to the American Red Cross from 1942-44, and the Two Notch Road facility continues to benefit the community.

"I think it adds a lot to the atmosphere of Aiken. I think it would be a real loss to Aiken to not have it here," Mr. Tucker said. "Economically, it's a huge influx of money for salaries and supplies, and it brings a lot of people to the community to earn money here. It's like having another plant or two."

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395 or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.