A new title cup that will debut at the Steeplechase of Charleston this weekend is named for a Revolutionary War officer, South Carolina socialite and horse racing aficionado.
The Alston Cup, named for Col. William Alston, will be awarded to one lucky horse and jockey for the first time Sunday at the Stono Ferry Racetrack in Hollywood. One 3-year-old thoroughbred at the start of their racing career will earn the honor.
Per the National Steeplechase Association, horses can't compete any younger than 3 years old. But, unlike other races where the thoroughbreds are usually the same age, steeplechase racing is a mixed bag. Thoroughbreds can be anywhere from a few years old to nearly 15 sometimes, National Steeplechase Association spokesman Don Clippinger said.
Flat-track racing can start as young as 2 years old. In prolific races such as the Kentucky Derby, there's only one chance as a 3-year-old to win the title. Similarly, the Alston Cup will be seen as almost a Heisman Trophy of sorts, one shot for a young horse to mark its likely successful career in steeplechase racing.
"These are the horses who are getting their first experience racing over fences," Clippinger said. "It's an exciting time. I was looking at the entries for the Alston Cup and there are some very exciting prospects."
Horses that will be running for a $25,000 purse include Another Try, Drillian, Global Freedom, He'll Do, Must See The Doc, Summer Vow and Diablo Veloce.
Pierre Manigault, the chairman of Evening Post Industries, is a distant grandchild of Alston and described his ancestor as "one of the central figures of thoroughbred racing in the late 18th century."
Alston was an early member of the Charleston Jockey Club, which predates the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs and even the English Jockey Club, which was influential in setting the standard for horse racing in America.
A story in a 1839 issue of the Edgefield Advertiser announcing Alston's death described him as "courteous in his manners, social in his disposition" with "tastes and habits of a Carolina gentleman."
During the Revolutionary War, Alston served as a captain under Gen. Francis Marion where he was entrusted with defending a fort in Georgetown. Later in life, he was known to "dwell on the virtues and services of Marion and was fond of relating anecdotes illustrative of his character," according to the Advertiser.
He was a socialite, who went by the nickname "King Billy," according to the Gibbes Museum of Art, where a portrait of him is on display. He would travel from Georgetown to his Charleston home, now known as the Miles Brewton House at 27 King St., in a lavish four-horse-drawn carriage. His home was praised for the "the abode of a refined and elegant hospitality," according to the story.
The call to post for the Alston Cup is at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.