Georgia Steeplechase cancels April 6 race meet

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Citing a lack of funding and timing difficulties, Georgia Steeplechase Inc. has canceled its second annual race meet.

Providing a statement to The Daily Tribune News Thursday, Anthony-Scott Hobbs’ comments mirrored Georgia Steeplechase Inc.’s online announcement. Hobbs co-chairs the Georgia Steeplechase event with his wife, Phoebe.

“It’s with a heavy heart, that the Georgia Steeplechase board of directors has announced that the April 6, 2019, race meet has been canceled,” Hobbs said. “Unfortunately, due to competing with multi-county spring break calendars, it has proven difficult to raise the entire $100,000 solely for the purse winnings from corporate sponsors by our deadline. We consulted with the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) for a possibility to reschedule to another date later this spring or fall, but unfortunately, there are no options for noncompeting dates in 2019. We will revisit the opportunity again for a possible date in mid-March 2020 to avoid the metro spring break calendars for 2020.

“We are currently issuing refunds to everyone that has purchased tickets either by credit card or check through us. If you purchased through a third party vendor, you will need to request a refund from them. They have all been notified. Our apologies for any inconveniences. We set our fundraising deadline in order to give our patrons at least three weeks notice to modify their travel plans.”

Striving to keep the “great tradition alive,” Georgia Steeplechase Inc. continued offering the sport of steeplechase racing at the Kingston Downs complex on the Bartow-Floyd county line when the Atlanta Steeplechase folded.

The first running of the Georgia Steeplechase, which featured temperatures in the 40s and wind, drew about 3,000 people last year.

Kingston Downs was home to the Atlanta Steeplechase for 20 years before running its final race April 22, 2017. Started in 1966, the event relocated to the venue in 1997, where it was known to annually draw between 20,000 and 25,000 patrons. “Numerous trends in the sporting industry” and diminishing ticket sales were cited by organizers as some of the reasons for the Atlanta Steeplechase’s closure.

“We love the sport and appreciate the support from Bartow County and great folks wanting to see the event successful,” Hobbs said. “Our goal going forward is to continue [to] host world-class equestrian events, where patrons have a memorable experience, and our efforts benefit the community by supporting local charities. As part of this goal, we would love to build a year-round world-class equestrian facility in Bartow County.

“The steeplechase is a very time consuming and expensive event that takes place for one day.  Between the NSA purse and operational costs, the break even in 2018 was $192,000, which didn’t include any labor costs, little marketing and year-round maintenance of the track. We are staffed by volunteers. On a positive note for 2019, we were seeing strong ticket sales from many new patrons coming for the first time with great enthusiasm and our outpouring of support for our efforts has been overwhelming. We want to thank everyone for helping keep this great tradition alive.”

A former member of the Atlanta Steeplechase’s board of stewards, Ellen Archer — executive director of Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau — shared the complexities of organizing an event of this scale. 

“My heart just went out to Anthony-Scott and his wife, because I know that they’ve put a tremendous amount of work into this, but I also know that it would have been nearly impossible for, I thought, a start-up organization to step in and fulfill all of the moving parts that a 50-year organization had not been able to do finally successfully. “There’s a lot of moving parts under the water. That one day is the tip of the iceberg. There was just a lot. It would have been very, very difficult for a start-up organization. They pulled it off the first year, [which] I think is amazing. Springtime is a hard time. Locally, it’s at the end of the spring breaks for both of the school systems.”

Even though she and her staff planned to market the event, Archer said the CVB decided 2019 would be the first year it would not sponsor a tent at one of Kingston Downs’ steeplechase events.

“It was a costly thing to do,” Archer said, referring to securing a tent. “Frankly, [we] just determined for a one-day event that was in Bartow County for 20 years, most of our primary clients had been there, done that, so to speak. It was a lot of money to put on the line that you knew it would not be attended if it rained for a one-day event.

“There was a time when people would have weathered the storm and gone out. But the event had probably saturated the market,” she said, adding she also believes “more stringent alcohol laws and enforcement and lack of public” transportation also contributed to the event’s dwindling attendance.

Echoing Archer’s comments, Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson expressed his disappointment in the turn of events, while pondering the reason for the sport’s decline in popularity.

“It’s unfortunate, because [steeplechase events have] had a long history of coming up here,” he said. “I’d attended several times, and it was always a fun event.

“It used to bring a whole lot of people. For some reason, it fell off in the last few years,” he said, referring to attendance levels. “It may be just changing pace of millennials and younger generations — the decline of horse racing as a sport. It’s hard to answer why it succeeded for so long, and why it’s no longer a popular event.”

For more information on the Georgia Steeplechase and to view future updates, visit the event’s website, https://georgiasteeplechase.org, or Facebook page.