The heavily wooded and peaceful small town of Camden, South Carolina is a lovely place to spend a few days – or maybe a lifetime. There are many historic sites to visit, lots of antique shops to peruse and plenty of parks in which to take a quiet stroll, but mostly, Camden is about horses. Thoroughbred horses.
Springdale Race Course is situated just on the outskirts of town, and hosts two of the most important steeplechases on the yearly calendar the extremely popular Carolina Cup in the spring and the prestigious Colonial Cup in the autumn. Interestingly, in a state where pari-mutuel betting is not allowed, more than 60,000 people routinely show up and have a wonderful time at the races. Clearly, going racing in the South is not just about the chance to win a bet.
Henry Kirkover and Ernest Woodward were upstate New Yorkers who purchased the old race course in town and renamed it Springdale. Woodward was Chairman of the Board of the Jell-O Corporation and an avid foxhunter with the Genessee Valley Hunt. In the 1940s Woodward gave the more-or-less 600 acres of the course to Kirkover, who had the same equine interests as his friend, but sadly not the same bank account balance. The property was sold a few years later to Mrs. Ambrose Clark of Aiken, SC; subsequent to her death the race course was bought by Marion du Pont Scott.
Mrs. Scott bred, owned and was passionate about horses all of her life. She had a horse farm in Virginia as well as the acreage in Camden. Trouble Maker carried her famous pink and blue colors to victory in the Carolina Cup in 1932. Most likely, her best horse was Battleship, who trained in Camden and then was sent across the pond to win the Grand National at Aintree, England in 1938. Battleship was not a very big horse, but he was certainly a brave one, as the Grand National is one of the most demanding races in the world.
Camden is well known as a training center for racehorses from the Eastern part of the U.S., and throughout the world. With its spacious, well maintained grounds laid out in the European training style, there are a variety of places in which to train and exercise the substantial horse population. Hall of Fame trainers have habitually sent their horses to Camden for a winter rest, or some rehab following an injury. It is also where young Thoroughbreds can begin their early training in a relaxed atmosphere away from the sometimes frenetic and more confined space of the racing facilities in major urban cities, such as New York and Miami. Many champion racehorses have called Camden home at some point during their careers, including the incomparable Ruffian.
Mrs. Scott died in 1983 and deeded the 600 plus acres of Springdale Race Course and the immediate environs to the state of South Carolina with the caveat that the land remain solely for equine use in perpetuity. She also bequeathed a million dollar endowment for maintenance. It was a wonderful and well intentioned gesture. The course is now ably managed by Jeff Teter, himself a former champion rider. Today both Springdale Race Course and the National Steeplechase Museum share the same knowledgeable and active Board of Directors and both are thriving.
The white clapboard building that houses the racing offices and the Steeplechase Museum, both non-profit organizations, is on the grounds of the race course. The original building was a simple two-room structure that purportedly was moved from Marion du Pont Scott’s Camden house Holly Hedge over to the race course. The building reflects Camden’s famous cottage architecture that was prevalent among the residences of visiting horsemen around the turn of the century. A life-size bronze statue of Lonesome Glory is the first thing to catch the eye at the walkway towards the museum entrance. As a record-setting five time Horse of the Year, this rangy chestnut certainly deserves his pride of place on the front lawn.