HOLLYWOOD — The social scene was fantastic.
Women in festive hats traded fashion advice while their husbands sipped cocktails and churned pots of steaming gumbo. Vendors sold spicy boiled peanuts and cracked jokes with strangers as if they were lifelong friends.
Yes, the Charleston Cup at Stono Ferry is as much — if not more — about the social atmosphere as it is the racing, but when the horses take off, the chatter quickly turns to cheers as onlookers root for their favorite thoroughbred.
Among the festivities Sunday, four winning jockeys emerged: Jacob Roberts, Willie McCarthy, Paddy Young and the feature race winner Roddy Mackenzie.
The Irishman has struggled this steeplechase season with only five wins prior to Sunday, but was excited to pull out a victory in the feature race at Stono Ferry.
“This is only the second time I’ve ever run this horse (Arrakis),” said Mackenzie. “She is a bit green, but a strong runner.”
Saint Nicholas was the first horse to cross the wire Sunday, winning the Sea Island Cup. Directing Saint Nicholas was jockey Jacob Roberts who, prior to Sunday, stood fourth in the Steeplechase standings with 10 wins.
“Riding in the steeplechase is such an adrenaline rush,” said Roberts. “I’ve been riding in these races since 2007 and every time I’m about to cross the wire I worry the other horses are going past me.”
Roberts and Mackenzie are two of 10 jockeys who compete at all 32 annual National Steeplechase races.
Over the eight-month circuit that runs from March through November, the Steeplechase Association travels up and down the East Coast, racing at venues in Massachusetts, Georgia and almost everywhere in between.
Bill Gallo, Director of Racing for the National Steeplechase Association, has been traveling with the Steeplechase for 36 years and is very fond of the Charleston venue.
“Normal horse races aren’t as fun for me because you’re not right on top of the action like you are with a steeplechase,” said Gallo.
“Fans like to see and hear the horses as they run and jump over obstacles.”
Both Jackson and Gallo spoke highly of the quality of horses that run in the steeplechase events.
“These horses are typically older, but bigger and are able to ride longer distances. Most flat-ground tracks are only three-quarters of a mile, while in steeplechase, horses have to run 2¼ miles while navigating obstacles,” said Gallo.
The horses are nearing the end of the season. With only one race to go, jockeys are preparing for next weekend’s Colonial Cup in Camden.
“I’m still in the hunt,” said Roberts. “I finished first, second and fifth today in my three races, and have to finish strong in Camden to get this year’s rider award.”
CHARLESTON CUP RESULTS
Sea Island Cup
1. Saint Nicholas (Horse); Noble Stables (Owner), Jacob Roberts (Jockey)
2. Class Launch; Mede Cahaba Stable LLC, Lilith Boucher
3. Tuxedo Park; William M. Backer, Darren Nagle
1. EZ Mac; Mark Buyck Jr., Willie McCarthy
2. Apostasy; Augustin Stables, Roddy Mackenzie
3. Baylor Dude; Dominick Falini, Paddy Young
South Carolina Jockey Club Cup
1. Ahgogo; Fox Ridge Farm, Paddy Young
2. Blackstone Bay; Michael A. Smith, Jacob Roberts
3. Radical Chic; Jonathon Sheppard, Brian Crowley
The Charleston Cup
1. Arrakis; Over Creek Stables LLC, Roddy Mackenzie
2. Sunshine Numbers; Mrs. George M. Sensor, (jockey not listed)
3. Plenty Pocket; Irvin S. Naylor, Ross Geraghty