Racing For the Fun of It: A Day in Aiken, South Carolina
By Mary Perdue
For decades, Aiken, South Carolina, has been the winter home of many famous race and sport horses, as well as their connections. Since 1942, the Aiken Training Track located on on Two Notch Road has hosted annual “March Trials” where unraced youngsters have the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a country fair-like setting. Reminiscent of the days when rural gentlemen would get together and pit hometown favorites against one another in informal match races, the Aiken Horse Trials give fans a chance to experience racing the way it used to be, where it’s more important to have fun than to win.
Aiken is where horses have the right of way on the dirt roads that run through its downtown historic district, and that spirit is reflected in the atmosphere on Trials Day. People congregate just to enjoy the spectacle of racing and be near the horses; anyone can grab a spot on the rail for the entire day. This year, in the first event for maiden 2-year-old fillies the outside horse bolted at the start and ran towards the outer rail for most of the race. At the finish line, well behind the rest of the field, jockey Jose Benitez fist pumped as he crossed the wire, while the crowd cheered as loudly as if he’d finished first.
You will see a lot of things at the Aiken Trials that you don’t usually see at a “regular” track, including:
- An entire card composed almost entirely of unraced 2-year-olds
- A snow fence paddock and a makeshift winner’s circle
- Unnamed horses with exercise riders serving as “jockey for a day”
- One-furlong races without wagering or purses
- A starting gate with only six spots
The Aiken Trials are the first leg of the annual Triple Crown events, held for three consecutive Saturdays each March. Next up is the Aiken Spring Steeplecase on Saturday, March 25, at Bruce’s Field, followed by Pacers and Polo at Powderhouse Polo Field Saturday April 1.