With apologies to the late baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, the Springdale Race Course will follow up the 85th running of the Carolina Cup on Saturday, March 30 by hosting “The Cup Runneth Over,” a full program of jump racing offering $90,000 in purses on Saturday, April 6.
“The Cup Runneth Over” takes the place on the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) calendar of the Georgia Steeplechase, which was canceled by its organizers on Monday. “The Cup Runneth Over” will offer a second consecutive weekend of racing over the historic Springdale course.
On Monday afternoon, officials with the Georgia Steeplechase informed the NSA of the intention to shutter their event due to lagging ticket sales. That news came on the heels of the announcement made on March 11 that the 73rd Tryon Block House Races, which was on the NSA schedule to be run on Saturday, April 13, were being rescheduled to Saturday, Oct. 5 in order to provide optimum course conditions for horses and riders.
With those two races off the NSA spring slate, it would have left a three-week gap for jump racers since the Saturday, April 13 “My Lady’s Manor” races in Monkton, Md., includes only three races, all of those over timber fences.
Faced with such a long layoff, NSA President Guy J. Torsilieri and NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr., placed a call to interim and outgoing Carolina Cup Executive Director John Cushman to gauge the Carolina Cup’s interest in hosting jump racing on back-to-back weekends.
“They lost Tryon because the track got washed out (due to unusually heavy amount of rains in the region this winter.) They were in crisis mode because they don’t want to lose two days of racing,” Cushman said of the three-way conversation with Torsilieri and Gallo. “I talked to Toby (Edwards, who will be Cushman’s successor as executive director) and Jeff (Teter, the Carolina Cup director of racing operations and facilities) and we didn’t see why we couldn’t do it.”
During a hastily arranged meeting early Tuesday morning, the Carolina Cup Racing Association (CCRA) Board of Directors gave the green light to hosting the Georgia Steeplechase in Camden. Minutes after the agreement was made, Cushman told the Chronicle-Independent that the CCRA’s decision was made with the best interest of the sport of steeplechasing in mind.
“It’s a one-time deal. It’s not going to be an annual event,” he said. “We’re just trying to help the sport, help the sportsmen and be a part of a solution for the sport. We thought we had 10 days to get ready for the Carolina Cup. Now, we have another event.”
Torsilieri, who is also chairman of the Far Hills Races in October, which offers the biggest one-day purse on the NSA slate, applauded the CCRA for stepping up to the plate in the organization’s time of need.
“We regret that, after a valiant effort last year, the Georgia Steeplechase could not sustain its position on the NSA calendar,” said Torsilieri. “The (NSA) Board of Directors and I believe it is vitally important to have a racing opportunity for our horsemen on April 6, and the board agreed to fund the event despite such short notice.
“We are most grateful to the Carolina Cup Racing Association for its willingness to open the Springdale Race Course for a second day of racing and to provide an important opportunity to our horsemen. Working together on a very short timeline, the NSA and the Carolina Cup Racing Association have taken a potentially negative development and turned it into a positive -- a new, innovative community event.
“Most if not all of our horsemen have raced on Springdale’s impeccable racing surface, and it is familiar territory to them,” Torsilieri said.
The NSA, Cushman said, is putting up the entire $90,000 in purse money for the April 6 races which features a $30,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle, a $25,000 ratings handicap for horses rated at 115 or lower, a $20,000 maiden hurdle for fillies and mares, a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle and a training flat race.
This is the second time in which the CCRA has come to the aid of a neighboring race meet. In 2006, the fall Colonial Cup took three races which were scheduled to be run at the cancelled Charleston Steeplechase and contested those events the morning of the Camden fall classic.
“One week after the Carolina Cup, we will stage an event for the entire Camden community while supporting our steeplechase horsemen,” Cushman said of the races which, like the preceding Saturday’s Carolina Cup will have a 1:30 p.m. post time for the first race. “Camden is horse country, and it is the longtime Southern home of steeplechase racing. Our community strongly supports the Carolina Cup, and we will devise an attractive guest package to welcome our fans back to Springdale for a second afternoon of spring racing.”
On Tuesday, Cushman laid out preliminary plans for “The Cup Runneth Over,” which will not have any pre-race sales or reserved parking. Instead, only the front row grandstand side of the track will be open to patrons. Another perk is a tip of the cap to the old “pay one price” drive-in theaters as vehicles entering the race course will be charged $40 each, regardless of how many people are inside the car or, truck.
The $40 per vehicle fee is the result of the CCRA providing the Springdale Race Course to the NSA which is renting out the facility for the day.
“We are helping (the NSA). Our expenses are very low and we want to pass the savings along to our loyal patrons by charging $40 per vehicle,” Cushman said.
There will be two entrances open to the general public on race day and they will both be located along Springdale Drive. Vehicles should enter through the gates marked for reserved parking and boxholder parking. Both entryways will be staffed by workers and will have large signs in front of or near the road. The general admission gates on Knights Hill Road and S.C. 97 (Liberty Hill Road) will be closed on race day.
“It will be as many people as you can get into a car. It will be first come, first served,” Cushman said as to the availability of front row parking spaces. “The grandstand will be open for everybody. The sponsor mounds will be open for anybody who wants to sit on them.
“We’re going to try and really promote it locally and get people to bring their children out here. It’s going to be a very small, much more relaxed, casual, family kind of day here. It’s really about the sport and our trying to be part of saving a piece of the sport while having a full day of racing.”
Cushman admitted that such an undertaking will be a challenge for Cup staff, which has devoted months of work in order to prepare for the Carolina Cup. In the same breath, he said he believes that it can be pulled off.
“Guy Torsilieri runs the biggest meet of the year. That’s why he, in particular, was most appreciative,” Cushman said of hosting race meets on consecutive Saturdays. “He understands what goes into getting ready for a race and the cleanup afterwards and for us to take this on in addition to our own event.”
What “The Cup Runneth Over” can become is Camden’s day of jump racing as the CCRA will gear its promotional efforts toward those in Kershaw County. It will not be a Carolina Cup-lite, so to speak, as much as it will be, in Cushman’s word, “Biscuits and Breezing on steroids,” referring to the recently completed series of Saturday morning workouts at Springdale.
“Hopefully,” he said, “we can get the local community to come out. We’ll treat it a little different than the Carolina Cup. Maybe, we’ll have live music and make it a fun local event.”
Tailgating is strongly encouraged and welcomed said Cushman, who is trying to line up a couple of food trucks to provide other dining choices for patrons on April 6. Even though the emphasis will be placed on making it a fun day and experience for all parties, Cushman said there is still the serious matter of protecting and looking out for the safety and well-being of the riders and their mounts. Security and medical personnel will treat the day just as they do the Carolina Cup.
“We have to go through all the protocols of a sanctioned (NSA) race meeting which is the ambulances, the medics, the veterinarians, the horse ambulances and those type of things,” he said. “It’s going to be like running a regular meet. It’s going to, sort of, be a throwback race meet. We guess that we’re going to have 500 cars here that day.
“We think it’s going to be fun. We think it’s going to be good for the town. We think it is going to be good for the sport and, to be honest with you, we were flattered to be asked to host this event to them, but we also want to pass along the saving to our loyal patrons by charging $40 per vehicle.
“We encourage families with children to come out and enjoy another great race day at the Springdale Race Course.”
(Don Clippinger, the NSA’s director of media relations and Eclipse Award-winning writer, contributed to this story.)