HOLLYWOOD -- Thoroughbreds pranced with nervous energy, encircled by lavish feasts on white tablecloths.

The Charleston Cup was back at Stono Ferry on Sunday after an eight-year absence.

It was always more than a horse race; it was an annual celebration of the good life. Women donned their best dresses and big hats; men brought out tuxedos or vintage dress and cars.

The menus were still top-notch this year. Scores of white tents encircled the tracks, tables packed with drinks and delicacies.

But the dress was more casual. A few bow ties were spotted in the sponsor tents near the finish line, but mostly it was a day for polo shirts or open collars.

"I think people were just ready to come and enjoy the weather," race director Karl McMillan said.

He estimated the crowed at 8,000 to 10,000.

"We were very, very happy with the turnout, after an eight-year hiatus and not having the contract until August," McMillan said.

Stono Ferry developers organized the Charleston Cup as a promotional event from 1986 through 2003. When the lots sold out, the amenities were turned over to the homeowners association, which decided to revive the event on its 25th anniversary, McMillan said.

Helena Feather, a Stono Ferry resident, also noticed the more casual atmosphere this year.

"It's less formal now," she said outside the tent for residents and club members. "People used to dress up to the nines. But everybody is having a good time."

Many of the tents were served by professional caterers, spreading out barbecue on silver trays, stacking up dessert samplers.

"I think it's back to where it used to be," said Jason Walker of Walker's Catering. "Everybody's in high spirits, that's for sure."

"We're here to see and be seen," said Billy Glenn of Charleston, a fishing guide enjoying some barbecue and beer at one of the tents. "Everybody's good here. We all grew up together. Good festivities, the food and wine, a great day, 70 in November. We might not see a horse today."

Rob Coggin, a friend of Glenn's, said he was keeping an eye on the races.

"I watch 'em go through and I try to bet on 'em," Coggin said.

There was some betting going on, but not many wanted to talk about it openly, in a state where you could be busted for a poker game in your house.

A woman in a formal dress held up a wad of bills while watching one of the races.

A young man at a tailgate party of Clemson folding chairs called out, "I won $9, nine whole dollars."

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.