Whoa, Nelly: Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina

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Whoa, Nelly: Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, Runs for the Roses When It Comes to All Things Equestrian

Take an unusual route to a regular destination and you just might happen upon the gem that is Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, encompassing the town of Aiken, where horses are the prize.

Situated along I-20, between Atlanta and Charleston – just east of Augusta, travel through Thoroughbred Country’s charming small towns, including Williston, Blackville, Denmark and Bamberg, to Charleston and Hilton Head, by US 78 or 278. Venture off the beaten path and take US 301, 321 or US 1 as alternate routes – driving through new opportunities for cultural explorations in the towns of Thoroughbred Country located along these pathways. Or follow I-95 on the other side of Bamberg County and take a new route to the final destination.

Aiken is home to National Champion horses like Palace Malice – a Belmont Stakes winner with career earnings of $2,676,235, including the rare combination of wins in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile – who trains at Dogwood Stable in Aiken, which touts eighty stakes winners, seven trips to the Kentucky Derby, both a Preakness and Belmont winner, seven millionaires, two Eclipse Awards and a Breeders’ Cup victory among their accolades.

From March to May and again from September to mid-November, take in polo events at Aiken Polo Club, celebrating 132 consecutive years of polo on historic Whitney Field. With rare exceptions, the Sunday game takes place at 3 p.m. on Whitney Field, located on Mead Avenue in the downtown horse district. Visit during March’s Triple Crown event or during one of the biannual Steeplechase events. Plan to visit for unique events like Combined Driving, an equestrian sport involving carriage driving. In this discipline, the driver sits on a vehicle drawn by a single horse, a pair or a team of four.

While in Aiken, visit Hopelands Gardens, a 14 acre estate located at Whiskey Road and Dupree Place, given to the City of Aiken by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, an avid sportswoman, philanthropist and the first American woman aboard the America’s Cup defender. Radiating throughout the gardens is a network of paths shaded under 100 year old live oaks. It is believed that Mrs. Iselin planted the deodar cedars and live oaks which still grace Hopelands Gardens today. The lazy curves of the paths and garden borders lead visitors throughout a wonderful variety of experiences sure to please all ages.

At the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, where admission is free, pay homage to the 39 Thoroughbred Champion horses that have trained at the Aiken Training Track. The Hall of Fame immortalizes each in the Iselin’s charming, old carriage house, featuring photos, trophies and other memorabilia highlighting both flat racers and steeplechase horses, from 1942 through the present.