by Craig Braddick
The day after the Georgia Steeplechase was canceled, my friend Toby Edwards, the incoming executive director of the Carolina Cup Racing Association, asked me: “What are you doing on April 6?”
As it turned out, traveling to Camden, S.C., and calling The Cup Runneth Over, a wonderfully improvisational day of racing put together by the National Steeplechase Association and the Carolina Cup Racing Association.
Toby and Carolina Cup Vice Chairman John Cushman were crucial members of the The Cup Runneth Over, the brainchild of NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.
Many volunteers also turned out, as did the horsemen and their staff members for an extra week of racing at historic Springdale Race Course.
After Toby’s call in mid-March, I immediately went online to find out all I could about this vaunted racecourse. Many of the great horses I heard about while growing up had raced there in the past. The legendary Irish commentator Michael O’Hehir was the race commentator there for many years—a voice I grew up with, as familiar as the brogue of my father.
I decided to get there a day early to experience the National Steeplechase Museum. You simply must visit. If you have a friend you want to interest in steeplechasing, there are not many better places to pique their interest.
When you see the trophies, the many exhibits on show from the past, you can just feel the air of dedication and commitment from so many people who have turned Camden into an international home of jumps racing over many decades.
In unseasonably bad weather, I was introduced to John Cushman. I knew a little of his U.S. record (four jockey championships from 1980 through 1983), but he wanted to talk about the great British steeplechase jockeys he rode with in the 1970s and 1980s, a classic era for the sport in the UK as its popularity grew exponentially thanks to television during that time. He made me feel totally at ease.
I boned up on all the runners and must have spent half a dozen hours compiling detailed color charts for every race. It is never easy when you first call at a new venue because you must learn the nuances of the track: how the horses turn toward you, interpreting the pace against an unfamiliar backdrop, making sure you have the location of the fences firmly in your head as well as the jockeys silks and likely running styles of the horses.
It was a wonderful learning experience, and I am very thankful to the NSA Network Jump Racing USA television show producers, who gave me the opportunity to interview the winning jockeys. Above all, it was great to meet so many people who over this past winter have been supportive of my efforts to become more involved in steeplechasing and who are encouraging me to do well when I color commentate at Willowdale and then return the commentary box for the big two-day meet at Fair Hill in May and beyond. I never forget the horses and jockeys are the stars of the show, not the race caller!
If I am ever privileged to be asked to call races at Camden again, I hope I am even more in tune with the sound of hoofbeats from the past combined with the sound and new enthusiasm of the audience we are attracting. Trust me, at Camden, it is an unbeatable experience!