When can you wear seersucker and white shoes? After Memorial Day?
Around here, the summer season begins with Nashville’s rite of spring — the Iroquois Steeplechase. The Steeplechase has been run since 1941 (with a break in 1945 for WWII) in the Warner Parks just outside Nashville. Come the second weekend of May, anyone who is anyone is at the Steeplechase (Fun fact: Princess Anne rode in one of the races!).
I’ve always wanted to go, given my love of horse racing, but I had heard stories from friends that you spend a lot of money to sit in traffic and then hang out with drunks all day in the heat and barely see the races. Since I really love horse racing, that didn’t really sell the whole event to me.
[Actually, I’ve wanted to see a Steeplechase race since I was in fifth grade and devoured horse books, including a series called… Steeplechase. And then when I was in school in VA, I always wanted to go the Gold Cup but was never there in the summer for the race.]
But I still wanted to check it out, because it seemed like it had such potential. Picnics? Horses? Bowties? Yes, sir. That’s an event for me.
When my dear friend Megan came into town for the weekend and she was game to go, then it was set. We’d experience Steeplechase together.
General admission tickets were only $15, which was about $520 cheaper than tailgating. But I couldn’t find much information about GA. There were plenty of tips and dos and donts for tailgating, but I couldn’t find any tips for GA.
Why? Because it’s super easy. Seriously, it was no sweat. No sitting in traffic. No expensive parking. No waiting in lines for shuttles. No trekking across miles of grassy meadows.
In short, it was the best $15 I’ve spent in Nashville to date.
We went shopping the night before for our picnic — cheese, bread, carrots, turkey, good chocolate. The next morning we headed to the wine store after Mass and breakfast. There was a “no glass” rule, but the liquor stores are prepared for Steeplechase and had plenty of options. We went for two small boxes of whites:
We got dressed, donned our hats, and headed out to the parking field. While the tailgaters have to be in place by a certain time (about three hours before post time), we could roll in any time. So we didn’t run into any traffic at all. We drove right into the field, parked, walked right up to the tent and bought GA tickets. Then we got our bags checked (it looked almost optional, so we probably could have brought glass in if we really wanted) and boarded the shuttle immediately. I think there was maybe twenty minutes between leaving my house and sitting on the shuttle.
The shuttles were nice little buses — not buses but not vans — and they took our camping chairs from us and loaded them up before we boarded. Everything was so nice and easy. They dropped us off not far from the GA section, so there was very limited walking. We had packed lightly — just our picnic and two chairs — and we could have easily brought more. Next time we decided we’d bring a blanket and chairs.
The General Admission section was a roped off section of the hill that overlooked the whole track, just next to the box seats. (Some day I’ll sit in the box seats. Someday.) We had a great view of the last jump and a decent view of the start/finish line.
For those not familiar with steeplechase racing, it is a type of horse racing that has a history in cross country races that involved jumping over ditches, logs, fences, etc. So it’s sort of like cross country running meets track hurdles — for horses. The Iroquois races are fairly long compared to something like the Kentucky Derby, and the horses are older.
Megan and I settled in to a spot and began to people-watch, which is the real sport most Steeplechase goers revel in. I was really impressed how many people were dressed up. Easily the majority of people in General Admission were dressed up. It was easier to count the number of women not in hats than the women in hats, and many of the guys were in suits. Most of the spectators were our age, too. It was a really fun crowd.
From top left, clockwise: (1) We loved this pair of cute couples that sat in front of us. We sort of wanted to go introduce ourselves and ask if we could be their friends. Her white dress? Her hat? His coat and bowtie and hat? Ahhh! (2) This cheese was expensive. But awesome. Extra matured Welsh Cheddar. For extra mature fabulous women. (3) This little guy was in front of us on the shuttle on the way home. Even the kids had hats. (4) Cheers! Thanks to Dad for buying plastic wine glasses last Easter! (5) This party looked fun — it was a huge group of young adults and they had several tables close to the fence that were filled with food. But we were most intrigued by that blue drink in what appeared to be a giant soap dispenser. What is that? (6) Go horsey, go!
There were seven races throughout the day, with about 30 minutes between each one.
You knew a race was about to start because the horses paraded by and … there was the bugle call!
I never managed to capture the whole call. But you get the idea. I think it sent shivers down my spine each time.
The horses were beautiful — I was glad that we weren’t stuck in the infield far from the track. We had a great view.
The races were all exciting, and there were some unscripted exciting moments, too. One of the horses got rid of his rider and decided he had enough of this racing stuff. As he came by rider-less, he seemed to know the way back to the barns — you can see him leap over the fence and head back there. Luckily they stopped him before he hurt anyone:
Sorry the quality isn’t better.
After the fourth race, I spilled my wine all over my chair (wine glasses don’t do well in the built-in cup holders of camping chairs, fyi) and therefore all over my bum. So I sat down on the ground for awhile.
Notice the flip flops. That was the one tip we learned online before we went and we were so glad we listened. You can wear beautiful, stylish shoes … but you’re walking, you’re sitting on the side of a hill, you’re sinking into the soft grass… flip flops or other comfortable shoes are your friend.
Oh, and that dress? I hadn’t worn it since I bought it in Rome in 2005 for Easter and the opera and never dreamed it still fit. Score.
We left after the fifth race, which was good timing– we beat the crowds and got right on a shuttle, headed back to the parking lot, got right in our car, and drove away. You never would have thought there were 25,000 people there with us. (Because many of them were stuck in the infield!) Again, we were home in no time. Awesome.
All in all, a fantastic day. I’m already dreaming of the hat I’ll buy for next year.