The beginning of the 2018 National Steeplechase Association season is just days away, and preparations are moving ahead for the 52nd edition of the always-sold-out Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday, March 24.
Paul Sauerborn took over as the president of the Aiken Steeplechase before last year’s spring meet, but it was by no means his first time around the course. Nor the second. A native of Aiken, Sauerborn is serving his third term as president of the NSA’s kickoff spring event.
He is a horseman of a casual sort. He rides for pleasure and does not hunt, although his wife, Beth, was involved with hunters and jumpers.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a concentration on engineering and business, he returned home to a career as an executive of the Savannah River Site, once the source of America’s enriched plutonium and now a research center focusing on nuclear environmental safety.
The Savannah River Site is deeply involved in the Aiken community, and Sauerborn on his own decided to reconnect with his hometown. “If I was going to reinsert myself into the community, what better way than the Steeplechase,” he said.
Those first steps, of course, placed him in contact with the legendary Ford Conger, who was by no means a casual horseman. But they found plenty of common ground in their first encounters in the mid-1970s. Sauerborn’s first duties with the Steeplechase were logistical, but he also was given the command that rings out from every race committee: “Go find the money.”
Over the years, the Aiken Steeplechase has found the money it needed. “We tried to design our event around our community and community involvement,” Sauerborn said. “We’ve given back more than $1-million to the Aiken community. For a small community, that says a lot.”
Through his three times at the helm, the meet’s revenues have roughly doubled. In addition to Events Coordinator Jessica Miller, the Aiken Steeplechase employs a bookkeeper to keep an eye on all the expenses.
Goals of his presidency are to establish a rainy-day fund for the Aiken Steeplechase and to continue the search for a property to serve as the exclusive home of the Aiken Steeplechase’s spring and fall events. The course currently shares space with Bruce’s Field, an equestrian center named in memory of longtime Aiken resident Bruce Duchossois. “We have a vision, but that doesn’t mean we are disappointed with the facility we now have at the horse park,” Sauerborn said.
The development of Bruce’s Field has curtailed parking, especially is the spring, and required creative solutions such as offsite parking. “We’re maxed out in the spring,” Sauerborn said. With careful planning, Aiken has roughly maintained its number of prized railside parking spots.
One of the Aiken Steeplechase’s key strengths, he said, is its 11-member board of directors, which is roughly split between horsemen and community members. “They are working board members,” he said. “They pitch in and really get the job done.”