81st annual Carolina Cup

Camden gears up for year’s big race

rburris@thestate.comMarch 27, 2013 

— The Carolina Cup steeplechase races have a one-day $5 million impact on Camden and surrounding areas each year. But the Easter holiday – which falls on the same weekend this year – could cut into that bounty.

Still, organizers, buoyed by forecasts for superb weather, are preparing for a crowd this Saturday.

An estimated 65,000 to 70,000 spectators are expected to trek to the historic Springdale Race Course outside Camden for the annual spring horse racing ritual, which doubles as a full-on fashion and food bazaar.

Easter Sunday, when families get together for a traditional holiday meal and visit, might have diminished some advance sales this year, race officials said, though sales of tickets and any remaining in-field parking spots will continue through Saturday.

“It attracts the largest crowd on the National Steeplechase Association circuit,” said Don Terrell, Carolina Cup Racing Association board member.

Though race day typically has a $4.5 million to $5 million impact on the area, track officials said that impact expands to $10 million when other horse-related attractions, such as the South Carolina Equine Park, are factored in. That is a small slice of the equine industry’s overall annual economic impact of $330 million in the state.

But it is a thriving part of Kershaw County’s economy. As a rule of thumb for the industry, which has been part of Camden’s history since 1930, officials say each horse that trains or stables in the area attracts at least three to four people.

“These are quasi-tourists – resident workers who spend money in our shops, buy gas at our stations and rent housing, so it’s a big impact,” said Terrell, who estimates 200 to 300 horses a year come to Camden.

Some horses train and stable at the Camden track year round, he said, but large numbers of flat track horses come in from out of town generally in November or December and stay until April or May. Terrell said steeplechasers, all of which are thoroughbreds, come in earlier in large part because the ground is better suited to the horses and cold weather is kept at bay.

The steeplechasers follow a circuit, he noted, beginning in Aiken then to Camden and on up the East Coast, winding up the season in August in Saratoga, N.Y.

Workers operated tractors around the course on Wednesday and put finishing touches on crowd areas, putting out portable garbage containers, portable toilets and speakers for spectators to hear the call of the races.

Nigel Casserley, the track’s race day color announcer and National Equestrian Communications owner, was busy Wednesday hanging the hundreds of loud speakers around the historic racecourse outside Camden.

“Since 1984, when I took over (track speaker installation), they were putting up 13 speakers to run this event,” he said. “Now, we’re over 200. I think you could say we’ve grown.”

Saturday’s featured event, the $50,000-purse Carolina Cup Race – fourth on this year’s card rather than the traditional fifth event – will see reigning novice champion Alajmal take on a horse experts describe as “impressive,” novice stakes winner, Fog Island.

Net proceeds from the races go to KershawHealth, and other charitable community organizations. Last year, the race enabled a charitable contribution of more than $250,000, officials said.

Overall, the Carolina Cup is great for the town and the region, said Candy Van Nort, owner of Carolina Cafe, a restaurant less than three miles from the race course. Her restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch in a downtown that has been hit hard by ravages of the Great Recession.

“Most of the visitors are just here for the day,” she said. But, “it’s not just about me. It’s a very, very big event for the city. And we’re here for each other.”

If you go

WHAT: Carolina Cup steeplechase races

WHERE: Springdale Race Course, Knights Hill Road, Camden

WHEN: Saturday; gates open at 9 a.m.; first race, 1:30 p.m.

ADMISSION: $45

INFO: www.carolina-cup.org

By the numbers

$5 million

Race day economic impact of the Carolina Cup. It’s a slice of South Carolina’s annual equine economic impact of $330 million.

200

Number of speakers hung at the racetrack for spectators to hear race announcements. That’s compared with 13 speakers 30 years ago.

70,000

Number of spectators expected to attend this year’s races, which fall on the same weekend as Easter. The track puts out more than 4,000 trash cans for all of those empty pimiento cheese tubs and pinot bottles.

SOURCE: Carolina Cup Racing Association

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