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  • Jack Sadler

The Post & Courier: Column: Thoroughbred Country is a Legacy Worth Preserving

Nestled along I-20 between the Palmetto State’s Capital City in Columbia and Augusta, Georgia, where the Masters will be played in April, is South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country.

Made up of Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell and Bamberg, Thoroughbred Country boasts 2,500 square miles of rich soil and history that helped lay the foundation for the current agricultural cities and towns there today. These rural communities have been a part of our state’s history dating back to the Revolutionary War and tell the American and South Carolina story.

The ties between Aiken and horse racing run deep, beginning in the early 20th century when winter training facilities were built in the region due to the mild temperatures and sandy soil. Over the years, Aiken has become synonymous with elite horsemanship, hosting events like the Aiken Trials and Steeplechase and McGhees’ Mile Harness Races, which have attracted top riders and sulky drivers from across the world.

Like the Aiken Training Track, standardbreds spend the winter at the harness track. Last Sunday saw the thrilling spectacle of the McGhees' Mile Harness Races, where horses geared up for forthcoming campaigns across the East Coast and Midwest harness meets. But beyond the glitz and glamour of the racing circuit, Thoroughbred Country plays a vital role in supporting the agricultural economy of South Carolina. 

Bell peppers, broccoli, peaches, poultry and decorated racehorses are synonymous with South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country. The horse and agribusiness sectors in the region contribute more than $135 million to the state’s economy annually. But recently, our state has seen many of its barns, stables, rehabilitation centers and other supporting agribusinesses close their doors, giving up the advantages our environmental climate offers for a more competitive economic climate in other states.

This trend hurts everybody in Thoroughbred Country and rural South Carolina, from local farmers and tack and feed stores to equine training centers, horse-based therapy centers, and events such as the upcoming Aiken Trials and Steeplechase this month.

Luckily, a group of legislators understood the importance and impact our horses and farms have on our rural communities and introduced the S.C. Equine Advancement Act. The bill, which passed in the House of Representatives and may soon be taken up in the Senate, would create new revenue streams for South Carolina’s rural economies by allowing residents to place wagers on horse races being run every day in South Carolina and across the country.

The S.C. Equine Advancement Act would provide new opportunities to not only preserve our historic horse industry but would bolster the impact it has it has on our row crop and livestock farmers, agribusinesses, and local economies. If passed, the bill would establish a grant program that would use the ADW return to help subsidize funding to assist with the growth and development of the equine and farming industries that are holding rural South Carolina together. 

Not to mention, horse races are fun, and can be made more entertaining by legalizing a longstanding tradition of placing friendly wagers on your favorite horses. This engaging social component to horse racing is part of what drives South Carolinians out in bright pastel-clothed droves to support local races.

In the upcoming racing season, nearby states will be able to engage in mobile betting on races taking place worldwide. Unfortunately, we’re overlooking this valuable revenue opportunity. It is time our state legislators invest back into the rural communities and businesses that helped shape the Palmetto State and the Thoroughbred Country dating back to the early 20th century.

Join me in asking our state Senators and Gov. Henry McMaster to support the S.C. Equine Advancement Act to bring life back to our rural communities.


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