Aiken Fall Steeplechase might not be held this year because of delays at new venue

·2 min read

Jul. 15—There is "a possibility" that the Aiken Fall Steeplechase won't be held in October, but "we're still pushing forward as if it will be," Aiken Steeplechase Association President Paul Sauerborn told the Aiken Standard earlier this week.

A new venue for that thoroughbred racing event and the Aiken Spring Steeplechase is being built on property bounded by Rudy Mason Parkway, Old Wagener Road and Richland Avenue East.

But some of the important work couldn't be completed as quickly this year as Sauerborn and his Steeplechase Association colleagues had hoped because of a series of setbacks.

"We had a little bit of a delay on the fence contractor finishing up," Sauerborn said.

That also put the installation of the irrigation and public address systems behind schedule.

In addition, there was a holdup in the planting of the grass for the tri-oval racecourse's surface because the irrigation system needed to be operational beforehand.

"We lost three weeks, maybe three-and-a-half weeks or more, in all," Sauerborn said.

The sprigs of turf have been in place on the racecourse since June, and now the big concern is how quickly they will mature.

"If we get enough hot weather and there's enough fertilizer, the grass will grow fast and we can make up a lot (of lost ground) during this time period," Sauerborn said. "It's kind of like farming, you're always hoping for the best."

Sauerborn expects a decision about the 2021 edition of the Fall Steeplechase's status to be made next month.

"I don't have a definitive answer yet," he said. "I wish it was a different story. I don't want to be negative, but I would like to be somewhat realistic."

Representatives of the National Steeplechase Association, which sanctions the races that the Aiken Steeplechase Association conducts, are scheduled to travel here the first or second week in August.

They will look at the condition of the racecourse and the progress that has been made on the new venue's development in other areas.

"Their highest concern, probably, will be whether the grass will be established enough for us to put on races in the fall, and we'll yield to their immense knowledge, " Sauerborn said. "They've got a lot of people — horsemen as well as others — who can make a good recommendation."

The 2020 edition of the Fall Steeplechase was canceled because of concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic and so were the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Spring Steeplechase.

Previously, the Spring and Fall steeplechases were held at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's Bruce's Field.

In January 2020, the Aiken Steeplechase Association purchased the property for a new venue.

The estimated cost of the first phase of the new venue's construction is nearly $4 million.

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