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Photo by Jeff Kluss/SIT

68th Running of the Iroquois Steeplechase Set for May 9, 2009

Spectators May Witness History as Good Night Shirt Seeks Third Consecutive Title

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Photo by Jeff Kluss/SIT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On the second Saturday of every May – one week after another popular horse race, the Kentucky Derby – Nashville society gathers in the boxes at Percy Warner Park to witness steeplechasing’s premiere spring contest and Music City’s traditional rite of spring, the iconic Iroquois Steeplechase.

The 68th running of the Iroquois Steeplechase – benefiting Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt – is slated for May 9, 2009.

Biggest Steeplechase in America’s Spring Season

While race day purses, bonuses and awards totaling $416,000 – the largest in American steeplechasing’s spring season and the second highest overall – attract the best horses and jockeys on the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) circuit, it is the tradition and pageantry of the Iroquois that draw a who’s who list of Southern society. Private box seats are filled with seersucker suits, sundresses, mint juleps and discussions of business and politics between the seven races of the day.

The Iroquois Steeplechase has long been a major part of Nashville and Tennessee’s heritage – it is our traditional rite of spring,” said Dwight Hall, chairman of the Iroquois Steeplechase. “The excitement, pomp and renown that increase each year were present from the beginning, starting with the founders of the race. It all began with members of some of the most prominent families in Nashville and the prestigious Hillsboro Hounds.”

A Storied History: Serious Horseracing In Tennessee Predates Kentucky

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Photo by Jeff Kluss/SIT

Long before the first running of the Kentucky Derby, Tennessee – not Kentucky – was regarded as the center of horse breeding and racing in the United States. Tennessee’s renown as the center for thoroughbred horses and horse racing reached its pinnacle during the 19th century with more than 10 established racetracks, 20 organized jockey clubs and Belle Meade in Nashville at the center of the horse racing region.

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Photo by Jeff Kluss/SIT

In 1906, Tennessee passed an anti-betting law, bringing an end to horse racing in Tennessee for many years. However, the void was filled in 1936 when Marcellus Frost, John Sloan, Sr. and Mason Houghland, together with members of the Hillsboro Hounds and through ties to President Franklin Roosevelt, built a steeplechase racecourse in front of a hillside in Percy Warner Park. The first running of the Iroquois Steeplechase – named for Pierre Lorillard’s Iroquois, the first American-bred horse to win the English Derby – was held in 1941. The Iroquois has run continuously since, except for 1945 when it was suspended because of World War II.

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Photo by Jeff Kluss/SIT

Seven races are held throughout the day, including the Bright Hour Amateur Hurdle and Guilford Dudley Jr. Memorial Flat Race. The Iroquois course, regarded as one of the best racing surfaces in the country, is maintained year-round with a computer-controlled, golf course style irrigation system. Below the course turf is 640 tons of sand that helps the course retain moisture and provides cushion to the horses in an effort to reduce race injuries. The Iroquois was one of the first steeplechase courses to use an irrigation system.

The Spring Gathering of Southern Society

“Remarkably, the Iroquois Steeplechase remains unchanged, for the most part, from its roots,” said Hall. “It remains the last surviving example in Tennessee of what horse racing was meant to be. And because of this, it continues to attract the crème de la crème of Southern society. But, beyond the excitement of great racing, the Iroquois Steeplechase continues to be one of the biggest and longest running fundraisers for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.”

Since being designated in 1981 as the official charity of the Iroquois Steeplechase, Children’s Hospital has received more than $9 million from the event proceeds.

For information on advance ticket purchases, corporate tents, and tailgating and RV spaces, visit http://www.iroquoissteeplechase.org or call (615) 591-2991.

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