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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Posted by PicasaSTEEPLECHASE
I have long been a passionate reader of Dick Francis mysteries. One of the things that habit has developed is a desire to watch a real steeplechase. We travel to Great Britain every once in awhile when we can find cheap tickets and trade for a time-share, but we have never been in a place, at a time, when there was a steeplechase. A few years ago, my daughter the environmental field biologist moved up to Columbia, South Carolina to environmentally field biologize Fort Jackson. (The home of much of the army’s basic training). Imagine our delight when she called home one day to tell us that Camden S.C., just north of Columbia is home to a steeplechase (twice a year). In the fall they have the Columbia Cup, which is a major race, with horses from all round the world, so we made arrangements to go. Steeplechases are not cheap (Oh if you compared Steeplechase tickets to the Super Bowl, they would be considered cheap), so we parked in the parking lot and got general admission tickets. We had a blast. You can wander out into the infield and there they have Jack Russell terrier races to tune you up for the horse race. The little rascals do steeplechase, high jumping, and a variety of other things that go on all day, and some folks go to the Columbia cup and spend the whole day at the Jack Russell terrier races, never watching the horses at all. Across the course near the grandstands (grandstand seats are 100 bucks a pop. I know that is cheap for many of you, but this old rounded bottom end is never likely to hit a grandstand seat. Our “standing room, general admission tickets are twenty five bucks each, and I thought that was enough) are restaurants, jewelry stores, souvenir stores, and all kinds of neat stuff. Last year they had a chef’s challenge, in which regional chef’s cooked a wide variety of foods and for a fee, you could go in, sample, and vote on your chef. (YUMMY)

Anyway the fall Columbia Cup race has become one of our splurges to go mix with the horsey set (and doggy) set and have a wonderful time. (They have a spring race, but I didn’t get the urge to go after I heard a few regulars talking about how the spring race was in heavy competition with the Georgia-Florida football game in Jacksonville which is billed as the worlds largest outdoor cocktail party, and that students and kegs were knee-deep in the infield)

This year, both Janet and I have reached the “I can’t walk worth a damn” stage, so we decided to get a parking place in the infield (expensive, but you can set up a canopy and a table and have dinner and nap on lounge chairs between races). I didn’t understand all the implications till, after we parked, the guy next to us asked if we were taking over “Hooters”. I must have looked really astonished so he explained that our parking space had been used for the last several years by a regional manager of “Hooters”.. It appears that getting a space establishes one with a permanent priority, and, until we skip the races some year, we have the rights to our space as long as we want it, so you can get to know your neighbors (of course you must reserve, and pay for it in advance). We had a great time, eating leftover turkey and Finnish Pulla bread along with Cougar Gold cheddar (made by the Washington State University Dairy program, and one of the best cheddars in the world) and other Thanksgiving leftovers. We watched the races, and the dog races, and had a ball. One of the funniest things was to watch the home-made bookies at work. Many people came out with extended families and a lot of teen age and pre-teen kids. Almost every family had an eleven or twelve year old kid who would cut up the program showing each horse and rider, then sell off the “tickets” to the members of the family. They would then put in a dollar or two (we saw one group that was dealing in fives), the “bookmaker” would hold the money, and pay off the winners, (and, I assume, pocket the rest) Some of them were casual, but some were entertaining to watch, and it was funny to be standing at the rail with a pre-teen holding her ticket and screaming for her horse. On one occasion, a horse (I assume pulled a muscle or something) was pulled up by its jockey and walked in. The boy holding the horse’s ticket stood there by the finish line till the horse walked over it, then stood up and yelled “It’s okay, you tried your best”, threw his ticket on the ground and stalked back to his family.

There were some down points. When you pass seventy, even if you are parked on the infield, sometimes that bathrooms are just too far away for a cripple to go. Two of my kids went to watch the races at the rail near the backstretch, and saw what no one likes to see. One of the horses fell getting over a backstretch jump, broke his/her leg and had to be put down right on the race course, and taken away in a horse ambulance. From our vantage point we saw a couple of riders ambulanced off. It is interesting to watch the horses that have lost riders. If they are in the pack where the outriders can’t get to them, they often just run along, do the jumps, and race as if there were jockeys riding them.

The falderal at the beginning of each race is fun to watch. First there is a major trumpet fanfare, then jockeys ride the horses out on the track to “look at” the jumps. When the actual start occurs, they don’t get in “gates” like flat riders do. The starter is a flagman who gets out and walks the horse in a sort of parade, sometimes around in circles until they all get in the right position, then he “drops the flag” and away they go. The pictures above (if I do them right and they truly appear) include a Jack Russell terrier high jump, most of the family relaxing between races and after lunch, the best I could do with a horse jumping, a picture of the tents and cars around the infield (looks like a major tail-gate party at a foot ball game) etc. Now I go back to being one of the hoi-polloi again. I would like to have written an inspiring Thanksgiving message or even a political diatribe but this was all my current mellow mood would allow.


At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Pam Mosier said...

I am the Media Coordinator for the Carolina Cup Racing Association. I enjoyed very much reading about your day at the races. This is a good description of a typical day at the races. One correction - the fall race is the Colonial Cup. The race in the spring is the Carolina Cup, coming up on April 1, 2006. No foolin'! Don't let the college kids keep you away from the Carolina Cup. We corral them in a special area, College Park, which is seperate from the infield. I am glad that you had so much fun at the Colonial Cup and please do come again.


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