When Georgia Steeplechase organizers saw that slow ticket sales would make it impossible to pull off their April 6 race meeting, it left the powers-that-be with the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) in a bind.
The cancellation was the second blow to the NSA’s spring schedule, coming on the heels of the March 11 announcement that, due to weather and logistical problems, the April 13 Block House Races in Tryon, N.C., were forced to be taken from the spring slate and pushed back to October. Not having a race on April 6 meant jumpers, their riders, trainers and owners would have to go three weekends between racing over National Fences from the March 30 Carolina Cup in Camden to the Middleburg Spring Races in Virginia on April 20. The time between races was hardly ideal for a sport whose spring schedule was reduced from 16 events to 14 before taking an early summer break.
With so many of the jumpers and their connections already being in this region for next Saturday’s NSA opener in Aiken before coming to Camden the following Saturday, NSA president Guy Torsilieri and NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr., reached out to John Cushman.
Cushman, who will relinquish his role as interim executive director of the Carolina Cup on June 30, bailed out not just his friends, but American jump racing itself by lending a sympathetic ear to the plight which the sport found itself in following the news from Georgia.
Pleading the NSA’s case to the Carolina Cup Racing Association’s (CCRA) Board of Directors, Cushman gave the governing board of steeplechasing in this country the news they hoped to hear. Camden and the Springdale Race Course would serve as the one-time only home for the Georgia Steeplechase.
In the span of less than 14 hours, Cushman, the Carolina Cup staff and the CCRA Board of Directors had given the day of racing a new name -- “The Cup Runneth Over” -- but were now hurriedly trying to put together a second race meeting while still in the midst of dotting the i’s and crossing the T’s for next Saturday’s Camden spring classic.
Not having time to print up tickets, sell advertising or devote necessary hours to promoting the April 6 races, Cushman did what he does best in acting quickly under pressure. In a day and age in which event organizers try to make every person pay the same admission price, the race is going back in time and offering a $40 per carload price with advantageous sightlines for patrons who will get up-close looks at the jumpers and jockeys. Want to get an even better view of the entire course? The grandstand and the sponsor berms will be open on a first come, first served basis.
The CCRA can afford to do this since the NSA is footing the bill for the event. It will be low-key and laid-back compared to the hustle and bustle of the Carolina Cup. It could be called “Camden Races” for this one Saturday since most of those expected to attend will be from in and around town. And the product itself will not suffer as this will be another chance for owners to have their horses compete. This is an opportunity for patrons to see the major league jumping for minor league prices. Hopefully, the public will respond in kind.
Few, if any, other stops on the NSA circuit could attempt such an undertaking seven days after hosting its showcase event. As America’s premier steeplechase facility, the Springdale Race Course can pull off such a daily double.
The course itself, however, is one part of the equation. This rapid turnabout will come to fruition thanks in large part to the efforts of Cushman and his staff including incoming Executive Director Toby Edwards, Assistant Executive Director Maggie Davis; Business Development Director Shannon Ferguson; Director of Racing Operations Jeff Teter and his work crew of Grady Humphries, James Harris, Bill Martin and Jonathan Smart; and all the others who have and will be asked to step up to the plate in this unique endeavor.
Let’s make this one-off race meet one for the books in Camden.