By Tod Marks
Steeplechase racing returns to where the season began last spring, in horsey Aiken, S.C., where a five-race card and plenty of Halloween family fun gets underway Saturday morning.
Aiken hosted its first meet since 2019 in March to kick off the 2022 National Steeplechase Association calendar, and a large crowd turned out at the beautiful new venue, located about two miles from downtown, on Richland Road, a location that is larger, offers more accessibility, better parking, and expanded tailgating options than the previous facility.
Saturday’s program consists of four races over hurdles and a training-flat contest, which will be run as the first race with a 1 p.m. post time. The other races include a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle; $20,000 handicap for horses rated at 110 or less; $25,000 maiden special weight hurdle for fillies and mares; and the Holiday Cup, a $30,000 maiden hurdle that marks the jump-racing debut of Cross Border, an eight-year-old multiple graded-stakes-winning millionaire on the flat. Full entries can be found here: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Aiken-Overnight-WedEntries.pdf
Gates open at 9 a.m., and festivities include railside trick-or-treating at 11 a.m; stick-horse races for children at 11:45; and hat and costume contests at 1:30 p.m. Also scheduled is a parade of carriages before the third race.
You can watch the races via live stream from the link on the NSA homepage, www.nationalsteeplechase.com. The stream, sponsored by Brown Advisory, is offered through Mandolin, which hosted the NSA spring meets. There is a fee to watch the stream.
After Aiken, only four meets remain. There’s a doubleheader on Nov. 5, the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., and the Montpelier Hunt Races in Montpelier Station, Va. The Pennsylvania Hunt Cup is next up in Unionville, on Nov. 6, followed by the finale, the Steeplechase of Charleston, in Hollywood, S.C., on Nov. 13.