Fast Facts: Where: Kingston, GA
When: Mid April
What:Georgia's biggest single horse-racing event
The ultimate prize in Georgia Steeplechase racing is awarded each year on the second Saturday of April at a track known as Kingston Downs along the historic Etowah River. It is here that a series of races collectively known as the Atlanta Steeplechase are run.
The race began in 1966 as the Atlanta Hunt Meeting and Steeplechase or simply "Chase Day." It was quite an event for the city that was only then coming of age with professional baseball and football teams. More than $7,000 was awarded during the first Atlanta Steeplechase held at Horseshoe Bend.
According to tradition the first steeplechase was run in England, probably around 1750. This involved horses running over natural obstacles between two church steeples. The English Grand National has been run since 1839. Today, steeplechase involves horses running a pre-determined track with man-made obstacles including water and brush. It is designed to mimic the obstacles a horse might encounter during an open range hunt.
Over the years the Atlanta Steeplechase has grown, moving to Cumming in 1971. Purses continued to grow, as did the crowds. Then, in 1993, the honor of hosting the event moved to Kingston Downs in Bartow County, just west of the historically significant town of Kingston.
Along the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Kingston grew thanks to a major rail facility downtown. General William Tecumseh Sherman spent some time here consolidating his position about two weeks into the Atlanta Campaign. After the war the city became known for its ministers, whose fame spread world-wide thanks to railroad passengers who would visit local churches while waiting for their trains.
Races are held each April. Although racing does not start until afternoon, the event is considered an all day event. People arrive early to picnic. Many fans wear Easter outfits on race day, including some fabulous bonnets. For many of the race watchers, the Atlanta Steeplechase is the place to see and be seen. There are normally six individual heats that make up the event. Prizes are awarded throughout the racing. Competition is not for the faint-hearted, for it is possible for horse and rider to sustain serious injury. For more information, visit the Atlanta Steeplechase website, http://www.atlantasteeplechase.org/
Race officials work closely with local police to plan traffic during the event, frequently closing key roads to improve traffic flow. As a result, giving accurate directions to the event is difficult, however, Biddy Road is located off Gore Springs Road north of US 411/GA 20 west of Cartersville.