A behind-the-scenes look at the Charleston Steeplechase |
You arrive at the freshly manicured green racetrack with your bow ties securely tied and your hats neatly pinned. You socialize, walk the grounds and browse the market vendors. With a drink in one hand and a fan in the other, you sit in the folding chairs you’ve packed and wait eagerly. You hear an announcer exclaim loudly over the intercom, the starting gun is given, and soon the horses are off to the races.
This day of awe-inspiring horse racing may seem seamless to the hundreds of spectators, but bringing it to fruition requires massive planning and teamwork. Steeplechase of Charleston Executive Director Chris Zoeller and Production Manager Justin Smith reveal more behind the scenes of producing and staging a horse race.
According to Zoeller, this year’s event will be different because The Post and Courier has raised the winning prize to $100,000. “We increased this purse to attract more horses, which makes horse racing exciting,” she said.
The planning and coordination takes place a year before, Zoeller explained. “We start (planning) for the next Steeplechase horse race as soon as the last race is over. As event planners, we’re always thinking about how we can improve the event and our guest experience, and when you’re in the event itself, our minds are already thinking about how we can improve it for next year,” she says.
The event staff stays busy in the months leading up to the Steeplechase making sure all the pieces fall into place. From booking bands to creating merchandise to finding sponsors, there’s not a detail that goes unnoticed.
As for the venue itself, the preparation starts early. Smith said setup begins a full week before the event and loading isn’t complete until a few days after. “In total, we will have approximately 75 staff, volunteers and production vendors who will play an important role in creating a memorable experience,” he said.
The venue sets the stage for the look and feel of the horse race, so the location is carefully considered. When asked what makes a good venue, Smith explained: “It really depends on the type of racing, but for a steeplechase Stono Ferry Racecourse is the perfect venue. There is a very large flat field for tailgating, entertainment and dining. The running track is wide and well maintained. Stono Ferry’s field crew and HOA take great pride in the track and it really shows on race day.
There are so many other variables that go into producing a great outdoor event, especially one with animals. “Everything has to be factored into the planning process,” Smith said. “What will the weather be like in the days leading up to the race? How can we load suppliers and infrastructure quickly and safely without damaging the grounds? Will officials change scheduled race times or distances before the start of the event? Will our estimates for food and alcohol satisfy everyone? Will we have serious injuries or problems with the horses or jockeys? Will the band, DJ, singers and announcers we have chosen work together to produce a cohesive show? »
As daunting as this process may seem, it is no less rewarding. “The most exciting part of producing a horse race is watching the spectators, sponsors, officials and staff have a great time at the event,” Smith said. “All the hard work pays off when you see a smiling family cheering on their favorite jockey or a young athlete winning their first race!”
The planning required to produce the Charleston Steeplechase is nothing short of miraculous and akin to that of a theatrical production. Once the “curtains are drawn” and the “lights” are on, spectators and staff marvel at the theatrics of the race. So let’s give a round of applause to those who made this year’s Steeplechase event possible.