All Equine Eyes on Aiken: What Started Aiken’s Rich Horse History?

All Equine Eyes on Aiken: What Started Aiken's Rich Horse History? (Image 1)

After Palace Malice's big Belmont Stakes win, some of you are asking what started Aiken's rich equine tradition.

“I don't know if there's any place in the world with this kind of history,” says Aiken Training Track president Brad Stauffer.  “Aiken is for horses.”

But why? The answer is two fold – You may not believe it with Monday's downpour, but the weather is actually what made Aiken horse country for wealthy northern snow birds.

“They started wintering here to get away from the cold weather and realized when they brought their polo horses this would be a great place for horses period,” Stauffer says.

The other reason is dirt cheap.

“The sand at the track is really soft on their feet, it's the perfect place for horses,” explains Lisa Hall, of the Aiken Thoroughbred Museum.

After several notable families flocked to Aiken, the Aiken Training Track started in 1941 – its seemingly quaint quarters have beat the odds.

“If you're in the thoroughbred business, you have to train at the Aiken Training Track,” Stauffer says.  “That's just the way it is.”

“A small town like aiken with 39 national champions, that doesn't happen often,” Hall adds.

That reputation has done everything but pave the way for Aiken's identity.

“The way the streets are made, the dirt roads are here for horse traffic, the 70 acres of Hitchcock Woods,” Stauffer says.

And it doesn't take strong horse sense to know that means money.

“It's a rolling snowball effect, one person ends up needing a product employing more people, the more horses are here the more money to the local economy,” he explains.

And while other places have big races with big stakes, those places aren't Aiken.

“It's living in a bygone era where things were a little slower, a little calmer,” Hall says.  “I've been to Saratoga and Churchill Downs they're all wonderful places, but they're not Aiken,” she says.

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