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Horse Cents | By Rebekah Sanderlin

04/01/2011 03:30PM ● Published by Anonymous

Year after year, bearing picnic baskets and donning hats, they come. They are committed horse fans and experienced tailgaters. They are children, families, singles and the elderly. They are drinkers and gamblers and also tee-totalers who wouldn’t part with so much as a penny. They are from every race, background and economic class and many of them mark the date on their calendars and plan for it months in advance. They come for the horses, for the atmosphere and simply to spend a day outdoors with friends.

Stoneybrook Steeplechase was founded six decades ago and has been held at the 250-acre Carolina Horse Park in Hoke County since 2001. Last year more than 7,500 people attended the event and organizers expect even more this year. The race has seen phenomenal growth in both crowd size and in popularity among competitors, who vie for top honors and the more than $50,000 purse.  The prime tailgating spots go fast, selling out as early as four months in advance but reservations are accepted until all the spots are taken. Stoneybrook’s Marketing and Event Coordinator Nicole White said that some people tailgate in the same location year after year. You can, however, still attend the event for the $15 general admission price, with a 20 percent discount for military members. Once inside, you can walk among the tailgating tents, visiting with old friends and likely making a few new ones.

Stoneybrook regular Emilie Nelson said she and her friends look forward to tailgating at the event every year. “Not only are the tickets more affordable, but you’re in with the crowd where no one is a stranger,” Nelson said. “There are so many wonderful people who attend. We have created and maintained many friendships from Stoneybrook; it gives us something else to look forward to every year.”  Stoneybrook Steeplechase is a horse race, to be sure. But it is much more than that. It’s a cultural event. A 60-year old institution. A cherished rite of spring.  “Stoneybrook is unique,” White said.  “In its history, it has been labeled the biggest cocktail party on the east coast, but apart from a great party atmosphere, Stoneybrook brings rich and poor, young and old, horse fanatics and those that just love to wear a funky hat. Tailgating spreads range from fine china, linens and champagne to plastic forks and Bud Light cans.”

This year’s Stoneybrook Steeplechase features an early morning 5K Run for the Ribbons, a best of show hat contest, a demonstration from Fort Bragg’s Golden Knights parachute team, a tribute to the military, a tailgating competition and a designated kids area that will offer pony rides, a petting zoo, a climbing wall and stick horse races, including a race with local celebrities. There will also be a variety of goods offered by vendors in the Shops @ Merchant’s Crossing area and a Sly Fox Pub beer tent.  “Stoneybrook is such a part of our local history,” White said. “It is a tradition that the community is passionate about and anticipates every year. Whether you are a horse person or not, Stoneybrook is a great day in the country for the whole family.”  Stoneybrook Steeplechase is an event in the Steeplechase circuit, a series of horse races around the U.S. American steeplechasing events that take place in 11 states: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York, and most steeplechase horses are based on the east coast between Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

The term “steeplechase” means simply that it is a race where the horse and rider must jump hurdles. Modern steeplechasing can be traced back to mid-18th century Ireland, where the first recorded steeplechase race was held in 1752 in County Cork. A horseman named O’Callaghan challenged a man named Edmund Blake to a race over about four and a half miles of countryside. Church steeples were the most prominent landmarks on the landscape, and so the sport of jump racing took its name from O’Callaghan’s and Blake’s dash from steeple to steeple.  Now entering its sixth decade, Stoneybrook Steeplechase has developed quite a history and a reputation of its own.  “It’s an event that brings everyone together from all walks of life,” White said.  The hat contest, the tailgating, the parties, the horses themselves — they are all much anticipated elements of the day. But I think people come back year after year because they want to be part of tradition. They want to be part of history.”

Nelson offered this bit of advice for first-timers to Stoneybrook:  “Try to remember to watch the race. There are horses there and they are absolutely stunning! A lot of blood, sweat and tears are put into these majestic animals and they do deserve recognition and respect. Other than that, go, dress comfortably and appropriately to where you are seated or standing, grab a cold adult beverage or iced sweet tea if you are driving and put on your smile because you’re gonna have a blast.”

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