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Cup: A Southern Spring Tradition

April 9, 2011

Carolina Cup! It is hard to find the best words to paint a picture of the Carolina Cup experience. In its simplest form, Cup, is a steeplechase horse race that takes place every spring at the Springdale Race Course in Camden, South Carolina.  People from all over the Southeast drive in for this traditional Southern event every spring. My college friends and I used it as an opportunity to pull a big group together for a reunion weekend. Not that we really needed an event to do it, we always seem to find a reason to go to someone’s city or town for a reunion weekend several times a year.

Now, a horserace is a great thing to watch. The horses are absolutely gorgeous… so sleek and powerful and intelligent. They’re truly amazing to watch. I am somewhat aware of the work that goes into breeding, raising and training such tremendous animals and athletes… to see them race is big part of that process, so I appreciate being able to see that.

See, we do actually watch the races!

And while the point of Cup IS the horse races, it isn’t actually the point for the vast majority of people who go. Most go for the time honored tradition of tailgating. But one doesn’t just tailgate at Cup, one tailgates with southern grace and style. Women wear sundresses, stylish hats and pearls. Men can be found in nice pants and oxford shirts with ties (bow or straight)… generally the men’s outfits involved some sort of the following in all sorts of colors: plaid, geometric shapes, solids with embroidering ALL over them (whales, horses, scorpions, college mascots). I have more commentary on the dress, so I will come back to this topic in a minute.

Now, the physical layout of Cup is important to note. One, it separates the calm from the crazy. Two, it is a bit of a hierarchal class system in seating. So first, imagine a gigantic field… several football sized field. Now, place a giant circle in that field, the circle (oval really) has fencing on either side and jump pieces throughout… this is the actual horse track. Now on the north side of the outer fence is a grandstand platform, the paddock, and Lexus tent area where all the super ritzy (and by ritzy, I mean super rich) people are hanging out. Off to the west of the field is a smaller tailgate area that is not pricey and to the east is the giant parking field for all the cars that won’t fit in the tailgate areas. To the south of the track is the infamous,College Park.College Park is where all of the fraternities, sororities and other college groups tailgate. Apparently this year there were 15,000 college-aged students in that section… a majority of them brought in on 190 tour buses. They have to be brought in on buses so that there is a lesser risk of drinking and driving, because they drink- A LOT. It is rather embarrassing to see actually. They are a stumbling, drunken mess in an area that smells (on the warm days) of sweat, alcohol and puke… not a pretty combination. I haven’t gone intoCollege Park since I was in college, and even then it was just to find someone. One smell was enough to last a lifetime.

Now, the section that we sit in is called the Infield. It is in the middle and the track runs around the area. It is not the super ritzy area, but we aren’t talking cheap seats either. The tailgate next to us had crystal serving bowls and sterling silver cracker and napkin holders. A couple of years ago the spot next to ours couldn’t be happy with just a simple tailgate tent, no, they had a portable gazebo with wisteria growing up the sides and mini picket fences. Get the picture of what our areas look like? Slightly hoity-toity, but not loaded. This is my type of scene.

So, it was a lovely day. Slightly cool at first, so we wrapped up in blankets to fight off the wind and covered our cute sundresses for a bit. But I had a great day sipping mimosas, eating chicken salad on croissants and munching on fresh strawberries. I hung out with great friends and caught up with what was going on in life… and then, I got to do what you only truly get to do with very good friends, who don’t judge you…. We people watched and totally judged and cracked jokes about what other people were wearing and doing J. Examples that are too priceless to not mention: a older woman in a motorized scooter. She was dressed very nicely, had a great hat, and I was getting around pretty well in that scooter. It was hilarious because she (or someone) had cut a giant piñata of a horse in half and had the front part hanging off the front of the scooter and the rear end on the back. Seriously… papier-mâché in full on attempted gallop. Then there was the woman who took her lovely hat and stuck two plastic pink flamingos in it. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the women who had giant plastic horse heads sticking out of their hats, with the horses’ muzzles holding beers. There were plenty of way too short dresses and a little too much cellulite hanging around… I have cellulite myself, but I make damn sure it isn’t hanging out. Of course, there are all the drunk college students who are stumbling around… highly entertaining as the girls try to walk in the wedges and not fall on their face, or the drunk guy running after a hat that has blown away. One never ceases to find entertainment at Cup.

Photo credit to Gail, she had the better photo!

So, we got there after 9am and the group I drove out to Camden with loaded up our junk and headed back to the car around 4pm. It was a lot easier to have all the stuff carted out in the truck, but since we left after the fourth race, we had to haul all our chairs, coolers and food back to our car in general parking at the end of the day. It was an amazing day with great friends, the only thing that would have made it better was a back rub after carrying all that stuff back to the car… I need to remember that for next year.

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