If you’ve ever been to the town of Aiken, you already know they take their horse racing pretty seriously. A Southern icon of equestrian excellence, Aiken is famous for breeding thoroughbreds that compete in both steeplechase and flat racing. And with every racing event, big or small, comes an electric atmosphere brought on by both locals and visitors. But to understand how the town of Aiken became the horse racing powerhouse it is today, we need to start from the beginning.
It all began with the Aiken Steeplechase Association, which was founded in 1930 and has been hosting annual races ever since. These competitive races draw more than 30,000 in attendance each year, bringing the local community together and attracting visitors from around the globe.
The Aiken Trials, which started in 1942, serve as an opportunity for the younger horses to gain experience in live racing. The Trials are the first leg of Aiken’s Triple Crown events, and even though they aren’t technically competitive races, the atmosphere can certainly feel like it. The community presence at the Trials alone speaks to the community’s love, support and passion for the horses they call their own.
Walk the streets through charming downtown and see for yourself just how connected this town is to its equestrian roots, from horse-inspired artistry in the local galleries to colorful horse statues standing on the sidewalks throughout town. If you want to learn more on how the history has evolved, check out the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, established in 1977 to pay tribute to the famous horses that trained at the Aiken Trial Track before making history at national events like the Kentucky Derby. It’s easy to be enamored with the town by this alone, but it’s the proud Aiken community and the atmosphere they create that makes a horse race in Aiken truly special.
Tailgating at the races takes on a life of its own and remains one of the most time-honored traditions here. Nearly every parking space at the Aiken Triple Crown events is transformed into its own personal tailgating space. From those who casually grill before the races to the many who set up canopy tents, pick a color scheme for their space and dress up for the event, the atmosphere alone at an Aiken horse race gives perspective on the impact of its most time-honored tradition. Whether you’re interested in these rich equestrian traditions or you’re just looking for new adventures in an unfamiliar place, Aiken is the place you should ride next.