Nashville, TN 05/12/2007
Story by: Jeff Kluss/Sports Image Times
Photography by: Jeff Kluss / Sports Image Times
Okay, the second weekend in May for the past 66 years has held a special place in the hearts of many residents of Nashville, Tennessee and tons of visitors to this great spectacle of Horses, Hats, and Hounds. It may not be as notable as Kentucky’s Derby Week at Churchill Downs, but it certainly is every bit as much fun and additionally has contributed over $8 million to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in the last 26 years.
The 66th Annual Iroquois SteeplechaseSM, was presented by Bank of America. It was an afternoon of pageantry, competition and festivities that featured six exciting horse races with purses and bonuses totaling $415,000. The Iroquois Steeplechase is the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association Spring Circuit.
This great event is put on by Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation and The Friends of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. More than 100 committee chairs and 600 volunteers make the event possible. By our estimates we witnessed almost 40,000 souls having the time of their lives and one of the largest tail-gaiting affairs in Tennessee. The infield was the largest party in the State, revelers were not disappointed.
Okay, now for a little history on Steeplechasing itself. American steeplechasing traces its lineage to Ireland, but owes its life to nine men from New York. August Belmont, H. DeCourcy Forbes, Samuel S. Howland, James O. Green, Frederick Gebhard, A.J. Cassatt, Foxhall P. Keene, John G. Follansbee and Frederick H. Prince founded the National Steeplechase Association. The purposes of the organization, according to the original charter dated February 15, 1895, have changed little.
Those men created an association to keep records; govern, promote and hold races; advance steeplechasing throughout the United States; license individuals and race meetings.
Spawned from the foxhunting field, jump racing had occurred earlier, but never under such sanction. Meets took place on Long Island and in northern New Jersey before spreading south to the Carolinas and Tennessee.
In Europe, racing started much earlier. The first recorded steeplechase occurred in 1752 in County Cork, Ireland. Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake engaged in a match race, covering about 4 1/2 miles from St. John’s Church at Buttevant to St. Mary’s Church in Doneraile. Church steeples were the most prominent, and tallest, landmarks on the landscape. Though history did not record the winner of the O’Callaghan-Blake race, the sport took its name from this simple “chase to the steeple.”
Steeplechasing’s backbone from the start was a group of one-day meetings in rural communities. Gradually, the focus shifted to major tracks like New York’s Belmont and Aqueduct and New Jersey’s Monmouth Park. That trend reversed itself in the 1970s and 1980s as race meetings run for charity expanded throughout the country.
The association today, based in Fair Hill, Md., includes 1,000 dues-paying members and licensees, a 15-member board of directors and a four-person staff. The racing season begins in early March and continues through November, hosting an estimated one million spectators. Participants in American steeplechasing travel the circuit from pockets of steeplechase interest in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
As for this great event, the Iroquois is a great time to be had by all. It is a tradition of debutants and genteel ladies in flowing summer dresses and large hats. The men will typically don their seersucker suits with fine straw panama hats, while the younger gentlemen will wear seersucker Bermuda shorts with ties of various bright colors. It is a day filled with picnic lunches and of course cold beverages. But when the first races begins at 1:00 pm the crowd’s focus is on the turf-way of Percy Warner Park. The day consists of six races with the last one ending at approximately 5:00 pm, but the parties continue for a while after that.
The participants are deadly serious about their performances. It’s a day filled with thrills, spills (this time there were no serious injuries), and proud winners. We at Sports Image Times do not consider this as serious a sport as say flat track racing for the Triple Crown, but it is definitely a spectacle worth viewing and a time worth having. With the prevalence of these great events contributing so much to charitable causes we would definitely recommend that you get out and take the family to a day at the races. It may not have the excitement of a $2 window and a stadium hot dog with mustard and a beer, but it is definitely a great way to spend a day for a great cause.
We would like to thank all the great folks that volunteered so much time and enormous efforts to bringing off a great day at the races, especially the Co-Chairs Donna C. Dalton and Cathy Rowan East. We would also like to thank Jason A. Mackey who is with The Bradford Group and worked to get us everything we as media needed to bring you this article.