CAMDEN — The 80th running of the Carolina Cup at Springdale Race Course is expected to attract the usual throng of between 60,000 and 70,000 visitors to what has become South Carolinas annual rite of spring.
But while the race day has become a premier social event in the Southeast, it is more than a chance to stage an elaborate and fashionable tailgate party.
The feature race is the first important date in the 2012 steeplechase season, and marks the Camden debut of heavy favorite Black Jack Blues the Eclipse Award winner in 2011 as the steeplechase horse of the year and the Lonesome Glory Champions Award winner as the leading money winner in 2011.
Black Jack Blues took home the top prizes even though he did not run at the season-ending Colonial Cup at Springdale because he developed a minor respiratory infection prior to the mid-November event.
The awards usually are heavily influenced by the Colonial Cup, but Black Jack Blues was clearly the top horse last season, said Don Clippinger, communications director of the National Steeplechase Association.
Clippinger said the Carolina Cup is a unique event.
It is, by far, the largest race day in steeplechase racing, but aside from that it is a race for championship-level horses and a great way for premier horses to start the season, he said. We have the largest audience, which makes it the perfect venue for the start of the season.
Black Jack Blues is the spotlight horse, but Hall of Fame trainer and part-time Camden resident Jonathan Sheppard has two entries in the six-horse field Sermon of Love and Italian Wedding.
Sheppard, who has been training in Camden since 1961 after coming to America from England and has owned a home in Camden for 25 years, has more wins and earned the most money of any trainer in U.S. history, but he has not had a Carolina Cup winner since Quiet Bay prevailed in 1982.
Sheppard had no idea of the date of his last Carolina Cup win, and does not expect to end the dry spell this season, though he likes both of his horses.
Sermon of Love is a good, steady horse, and Italian Wedding has done some very good things but is a little erratic, Sheppard said.
Sermon of Love had a stakes win in 2010 but had a run of bad luck in 2011. Italian Wedding, a horse Sheppard owns and trains, was a Novice stakes winner last season at Saratoga and was fifth at the Colonial Cup.