Libby Cheek, executive director, refers to Nashville, Tenn.’s Iroquois Steeplechase
as a “rite of spring.”
“It’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s something people in Nashville and middle Tennessee look forward to all year. People know not to plan anything for the second weekend in May.”
Celebrating its 71st year, the Iroquois Steeplechase is slated for Saturday, May 14 at Percy Warner Park
. Named after the first American-bred winner of the English Derby in 1881, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious steeplechase races in the country. The race also draws an average crowd of 25,000.
“It’s a great social event and an all-day outing,” adds Dwight Hall, chairman. “It’s not only about the race, but also about the festive atmosphere. It’s fun for all ages.”
Gates open at 8 a.m., with the first race beginning at 1 p.m. The last race ends at 4:45 p.m., which is the featured race, The Calvin Houghland Iroquois.
What is Steeplechase
For those not familiar with steeplechasing, the racing roots can be traced back to Ireland.
In American, the race is said to began in 1834 in Washington D.C., and expanded around 1895 due to nine men in New York who formed the National Steeplechase Association. Today, several of the oldest and most prestigious races are still run. Steeplechasing occurs in 12 states as far north as upstate New York and as far south as Florida at 32 National Steeplechase Association stops.
While the the thoroughbred horses race at flat tracks, the focus is on the jumps.
According to Hill, former jockey who won the 1977 Iroquois, in steeplechasing the thoroughbreds go a longer distance, two to three miles as compared to three-quarters of a mile to miles; and are older in age.
“The racing extends their career. With steeplechasing, they have a longer racing life after flat track racing.”
He adds the courses are well-maintained, and tend to be safer for both the horses and riders.
General admission for race day is $15 per adult, children 12 and under are admitted free. Both parking and race-day tickets areavailable on Highway 100 at Old Hickory Blvd. Money raised goes to support the work of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Even threatening weather conditions, like the Nashville Flood of 2010, could not keep a good race down. The Iroquois has run continuously since 1941, taking only one year off during World War II.
photo credits the Bradford Group and Iroquois Steeplechase