Preparations are well under way for the 54th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase at Bruce’s Field on Saturday, March 21, and simultaneously work is beginning a few miles away on the future home of the ever-popular community event.
The Aiken Steeplechase Association is creating a new race course on Rudy Mason Parkway on the eastern edge of the City of Aiken. It is a project that has been years in the making and has been driven by a commitment to serve the Aiken community.
“This will be a track for the community,” said Aiken Steeplechase President Paul Sauerborn. “We have a real challenge on our hands, and we are committed to meeting that challenge.”
The race course is scheduled for completion in time for the 2021 Aiken Fall Steeplechase in late October. The schedule will allow time for all necessary construction and for the steeplechase turf course to take root. Until then, the upcoming Aiken Spring meet, the 29th annual Aiken Fall Steeplechase in October, and the 2021 Aiken Spring Steeplechase will be held at Bruce’s Field.
The new site of the Aiken Steeplechase totals 140 acres and is located just over two miles from Aiken’s thriving downtown area. In all likelihood, the new location will have a one-mile track so that the horses will be readily visible to the racegoers. “We plan on having a quarter-mile of railside parking,” Sauerborn said.
Of the 140 acres, 80 will be developed for the race course, and the remaining land will be maintained in its natural setting. “When you go onto the property, you’ll think you’re in the country,” he said. Clearing of the property began last month.
The City of Aiken is assisting the project through a $1-million grant for the property purchase, with funds coming from tourism and open-space sources. The grant was approved unanimously by the Aiken City Council in January.
Indeed, the Aiken Steeplechase project will serve both tourism and the preservation of open space, and it will continue Aiken’s longstanding tradition within Thoroughbred racing. The Aiken Spring Steeplechase always attracts a capacity crowd and is oversubscribed.
For several years, the Aiken Steeplechase has been looking for a property to accommodate its large spring crowds and potential patrons who wanted to attend but could not obtain tickets. The search ranged over a wide area around Aiken, but Sauerborn and his team settled on a site within the city that will provide easy access to Aiken residents and those coming from out of town.
The search became more focused in recent years as the Aiken Horse Park Foundation continued its development of Bruce’s Field into a world-class facility for equestrian show sports. The development of the property included new barns and an administrative center that removed space formerly used for the steeplechase meets.
“Our relationship with the Aiken Horse Park Foundation has always been amicable, but its growth has reduced parking and other amenities for our Aiken Steeplechase fans,” Sauerborn said. “I think it’s fair to say that both organizations knew that changes would occur, and those changes are under way.
“The Horse Park will be able to continue its development of Bruce’s Field, and the Aiken Steeplechase will have a brand-new home that will serve the needs of the community, our loyal patrons, and steeplechase racing.”