The Steeplechase of Charleston is deeply rooted in the history of its home city. Charleston’s passion for horse racing goes back to the early years of our country. Charleston became the prime seat for racing in the South following the American Revolution. It’s only natural that one of the oldest spectator sports in the world remains popular here.
The Jockey Club
In 1734, the South Carolina Gazette published the first record of racing in South Carolina. That same year, the South Carolina Jockey Club formed, 16 years before the English Jockey Club was established.
Organized races in South Carolina began to take place in Charleston, Edisto, Jacksonborough, Pocotaligo and Strawberry Ferry. Following the American Revolutionary War, racing continued to increase in popularity, and while it was wealthy members of the jockey club that raced horses, the races were popular with every strata of society.
Charleston was the home of the Washington Course, which ran around what is today called Hampton Park.
The course’s earliest race dates back to 1792 for the Jockey Club Purse. This race consisted of four heats, each run with the same horses and riders. Spectators would spend time between heats making new wagers and exploring the racetrack grounds.
The South Carolina Jockey Club continued to be the exclusive club for elite members of southern society for decades. Described as the “carnival of the state,” race week in Charleston was home to shops, stands, new restaurants and real estate auctions. It was also the place to purchase newly imported horses from England.
When the Civil War began, an overwhelming number of thoroughbred horses were lost. A massive economic decline followed the war, and the Jockey Club disbanded in 1899.