By Vanessa Wolf
If you’ve never been the Carolina Cup, it’s time for a change. The race returns to the fabled Springdale Race Course in Camden on Saturday, March 28. The celebrated sporting and social event has been held there each spring since March 1930 and remains one of the country’s best-attended horse races.
Steeplechase originated in 18th-century Ireland. The name refers to cross-country horse races that spanned from one designated church steeple to another.
Ernest Woodward and Ernest Kirkover, New Yorkers who spent their winters in the Kershaw County town, developed the Springdale course in 1930. Fans of the sport, they designed a full- length European-style steeplechase course—the first in the country where all hurdles could be viewed from one spot.
Marion duPont Scott—granddaughter of the man who founded the company DuPont—won first place in the 1932 Carolina Cup and later bought the course. When she died in 1983, her will deeded the property to the state of South Carolina under the terms that the land be used solely by horses into perpetuity.
Springdale also hosts the Colonial Cup each November and is home to seasonal training facilities and the National Steeplechase Museum—the only steeplechase museum in the states.
Outside, there’s a life-size statue of Lonesome Glory, a record-setting, five-time American Steeplechase Horse of the Year. Lonesome Glory won the Carolina Cup twice and claimed a trio of victories at the Colonial Cup. During his eight-year career, he won 19 jump races—17 in the U.S. and a pair in England—from 35 starts and retired with earnings of more than $1.3 million.
Carolina Cup Executive Director Toby Edwards is a former steeplechase jockey who has ridden every racecourse in the U.S. From notable firsthand experience, he says what makes the Springdale course unique is the size. With 2,000 tailgate spots and plentiful rail-side viewing, Springdale brings large crowds.
Gates open at 9 a.m. on the day of the Carolina Cup. The event is held rain or shine.
“I do remember one year when first thing in the morning it was pouring with rain and looked like it was going to be a total washout,” Toby says. “But then, around 10 a.m., the clouds blew away and everything turned around. Still, my advice would be to dress according to the weatherman.”
Variable weather should not encourage passing up the experience.
“The girls dress up, and the big sunhats and fancy sundresses come out,” Toby says. “The guys wear button-downs and bowties.”
Tailgating is also part of the tradition. Prices vary based on location, but tailgating spots range from $125 to $325. All come with two general admission tickets, valued at $30 each. The general admission ticket price increases to $45 each on March 15. Previous patrons are given the option to renew their prior spot first.
“Families have been coming to the Carolina Cup for literal generations,” Toby says. “I love to see three-generational tailgating, with grandma and grandpa there with their kids and their grandchildren.”
If tailgating isn’t your thing, there are two lunch tent options. The first, at $100 per person, is held in the post and paddock tent. Toby says this option is younger, more fun and set near the paddock where the horses parade pre-race. In contrast, the VIP experience is more upscale and requires that each entrant possess a grandstand seat, bringing the cost to $250 per person. There are also tents in the meadow, which often appeal to families and small businesses and run from $900 to $3,000. Those with a tent can park behind it, in lieu of the more-distant general admission area.
This family event is a collaborative effort.
“We have a great partnership with the city of Camden,” Toby explains. “Also, many local volunteer groups help us with ticket sales, program sales, merchandise and even act as car-parking stewards. Without their help, we couldn’t run the event. It’s something for the community that is run by the community. Although it is the Carolina Cup Racing Association, it’s also very much a team effort.”