Ladies sporting lavish hats and dressed to the nines. Gentlemen outfitted in tuxedoes. Elegant tailgating setups serving the finest in Lowcountry cuisine.

And sweaty, thousand-pound thoroughbreds racing at speeds up to 40 mph, their jockeys dressed in colorful silks, trying to be the first to navigate the 2 1/2-mile track.

It's steeplechase, and it's returning to Charleston after nearly a decade.

More than 10,000 spectators are expected to pack the grounds of Stono Ferry on Sunday for the 18th running of the Charleston Cup.

Most of the attention will be on the $25,000 main event, the third of four races. But there will be a lot of eyes on the first race of the day and a horse named Southern Admiral.

The gelding was born in Jeff and Tracy Madden's backyard in Wando, a surprise gift from RiverTowne resident Joe Bartone that made an earlier than anticipated arrival.

Bartone is a real estate developer and investor who is heavily involved in thoroughbred breeding. He also is an owner of Highcliff Farm, New York's top thoroughbred breeding facility.

"I got a call and Joe said, 'Hey, I've got a horse for you but he's coming in today.' So I had no notice to find a place to put my horse," Jeff Madden said. The Maddens picked up the horse, cobbled together a makeshift stall in their backyard and the horse gave birth that night.

Madden said his wife's training as a paramedic helped, and his mother phoned a friend in Maryland who knows horses and they managed to work their way through the birthing process.

Madden said they waited to make sure Southern Admiral's legs were strong enough, broke the horse in Kingstree, then sent him to Pennsylvania where Southern Admiral won two races.

"It's been a blast," Madden said. "I've been very blessed with a great horse. His first win in Pennsylvania, I was there and I was crying like a baby."

Madden no longer owns Southern Admiral, who is now based out of Glenview Farms in Timmonsville and trained by Joe Hanson. But he still keeps a close eye on the horse, which finished second in the King's Tree Trials Horse Race in Kingstree last weekend.

"Seven or eight years old is about the time they switch from flat track racing to steeplechase," Madden said. "This will be his maiden steeplechase. We'll see how he does."

The 18th running of the Charleston Cup comes after an eight-year hiatus. The event is the next-to-last of the year, preceding the Colonial Cup in Camden on Nov. 19.

"I think it's been gone long enough that people miss it, but not too long that they've forgotten about it," race director Karl McMillan said. "We expect between 10,000 and 12,000, which is a good attendance considering we didn't get started on this thing until August."

Don Clippinger, who works with the National Steeplechase Association, said the main race is well balanced with 11 horses entered, although only 10 can run. Clippinger has posted odds on the horses, but betting is not allowed.

"You have some horses that have some accomplishments, like Red Letter Day (5 to 1), and you have some horses that are stepping up, like Straight To It (9-2)," Clippinger said. "These horses are up and coming or horses that have moved back from that first order."