It’s the setting for the start of spring in South Carolina, a place where 60,000 people gather – men in their white linen pants, bow ties and blue blazers; and women showing off their colorful dresses and big floppy hats.
It’s the iconic Carolina Cup steeplechase races in the horse country of Kershaw County. But whatever you think you know about the Carolina Cup is probably wrong. For example:
It’s a great excuse to socialize
It’s a tailgate, a reunion, a college rite of passage, a place where the governor shows up – and so do people you might recognize. It’s footballs flung through the air, corn hole competitions of little consequence, horseshoes and bocce played on a grass infield. It’s gin and tonics sipped gently in the warm spring breeze under blue Carolina skies.
For adults, it’s a time for reunion and reminiscence
The track harkens to great times in college for many returning professionals who bring their families and enjoy communion with old friends who have dispersed.
They keep the college students away from the families
Busloads of college fraternity brothers and sorority sisters converge on Camden, where the smell of wood smoke and barbecue, of fragrant spring flowers, of joy and good tidings fill the air. But the young adults are separated in their own area, College Park, located on the backside of the infield, so they can have their own fun.
There’s a horse race in there somewhere
Now in its 83rd running, the Carolina Cup kicks off the National Steeplechase Association (NSA)’s spring steeplechase season with pageantry and tradition. The 2 1/8-mile race, with 13 fence jumps, features some of the most magnificent athletes in the world. For jockeys, trainers and owners, a win in this race is a coveted check-off for the curriculum vitae.
It’s the biggest event of the spring
The 70,000 people who showed up for Carolina Cup a few years ago set a record for a NSA-sanctioned event. After the Clemson-Carolina football game, it’s the tailgating event of the year, even if most of the attendees pay scant attention to the competition on the track.
It’s a paradox Carolina Cup Racing Association’s (CCRA) CEO Nick Ellis knows all too well. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re selling a horse race here,” he says. “Too many people have told me they enjoyed themselves immensely but never saw a horse.”
It’s a community event in Camden
Local physicians and nurses have served as medical officers, local horse professionals as patrol judges, and local non-profits kick in various other volunteers. Any money earned by the nonprofit that operates, the CCRA, the venue is donated to Kershaw County Community Hospital. Over the years, the donation has amounted to millions of dollars for indigent care, new technology and community healthcare.
In the end, horse race lovers are happy to have the company. “You are just as likely to see generations of families reuniting to celebrate spring, old friends reconnecting after years apart and local folks at their usual parking slot sharing the annual tailgate spread with friends,” says Carolina Cup CEO Nick Ellis.
To learn more about the big event or secure your ticket, visit Carolina-Cup.org.