Opportunity. It’s about opportunity, and the National Steeplechase Association teamed up with the Carolina Cup Racing Association to make sure horses and horsemen get an opportunity with a second day of racing at Springdale Race Course April 6.
Dubbed the “Cup Runneth Over,” the day follows the traditional Carolina Cup meet on the Camden, S.C., course March 30 and replaces the recently canceled Georgia Steeplechase slated for April 6.
It all happened pretty quickly. Sunday evening, Georgia organizers cited financial and scheduling difficulties, and informed the NSA of a need to move to late spring or the autumn. The calendar features no open weekends April 13 through May 25, and further talks stalled, according to NSA president Guy Torsilieri. No race meet April 6 would have meant two consecutive open weekends for hurdle horses as the meet in Tryon, N.C. (set for April 13) moved to October.
“We’re trying to keep race meets going, we don’t want to lose race meets and we help race meets big and small,” Torsilieri said. “But we didn’t want to see two open dates for hurdle horses early in the season. We regret that, after a valiant effort last year, the Georgia Steeplechase could not sustain its position on the NSA calendar.”
Enter the Carolina Cup. NSA director of racing Bill Gallo called Carolina Cup executive director John Cushman about running a second day. Cushman listened, didn’t say no, discussed it with his board. And a new race day was born.
The NSA will fund the purse structure – $90,000 for five races – and some other base costs. The Carolina Cup will run the race meet.
“Give Bill all the credit for thinking outside the box and John Cushman all the credit for thinking it might work,” said Torsilieri. “Camden couldn’t be more helpful or more supportive in this idea and we’re excited about the possibilities.”
Springdale hosts the 87th annual Carolina Cup card March 30. That day features $135,000 in purses headed by the $50,000 Carolina Cup handicap hurdle. A week later, the historic course will do it all again, albeit in a scaled-down version. Admission will be by the car ($40), and essentially tailgate parking spaces and grandstand seating will be first-come, first served. Cushman hopes for a crowd of a few thousand to be successful, but that’s not really the point.
“NSA is doing 80 to 90 percent of this and they were looking for somebody to help them help the horsemen,” said Cushman, who ran the race meet and training center from 1990-2000 but returned to head up a re-organization in 2017. “I couldn’t find a way to say no. I was happy and flattered that we were asked and that we could help.”
Cushman said the condition of the Springdale course helped make the decision easier.
“The race course is the best I’ve seen it – ever,” he said. “Our turf is unreal. The race course is the easiest part for us because we’re already set up (for the previous Saturday) and it’s in such good shape.”
Springdale hired a turf consultant in 2017, followed the instructions and got a big boost from plenty of rain this winter. The new treatment included aggressive broadcast over-seeding with rye grass and the result is greener, lusher turf with better roots and an ability to handle traffic.
Though it happened to solve an emergency, the second day of racing might have enough legs to become a long-term option.
“It’s a good idea,” said Gallo. “Maybe it’s an idea with a future. The immediate reaction was very positive. The course is in great shape, it’s one people like to run over and we’ve got an opportunity to run on it two weeks in a row.”
NOTES: Cushman said his retirement plans are still in place and he will leave the Carolina Cup job June 30. Former trainer and jump jockey Toby Edwards was hired to replace Cushman earlier this year . . . The NSA season kicks off Saturday, March 23 at Aiken.