Since its inception, Steeplechase has maintained its position as one of the largest and highest-earning fundraisers in the area and has raised more than 4 million dollars since 1985. Drawing crowds of more than 10,000 attendees annually, the event provides a uniquely Southern race day experience and is steeped in tradition, class, and fun.
By Scottie DeClue | Photos by A. Caligaris
Yes, it that time of year once again, and the decades-old tradition that is Steeplechase is finally here. For the thirty-fourth year in a row, this equestrian race day fundraiser is expected to draw in thousands of people who are eager and willing to get that Southern culture kick. Steeplechase is a challenging feat in terms of logistics, and behind the wheel of all that coordination is Steeplechase Race Director Michelle Blanchard. SVM spoke with Michelle about the details of the job and what racegoers might expect from this year’s event. She shared that there will be old traditions, as well as some opportunities to create new ones. One thing’s for sure... whether it’s sporting your most extravagant hat, breaking in your new pair of boots, kicking back with friends to watch the race, or collecting the big purse, there is something for everyone at this multifaceted event. Front gates open for ticket holders at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of November.
Race director is such a unique opportunity.Where did you find the inspiration to take on such an esteemed role? Serving as the race director has been a terrific opportunity for me, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It was presented to me as a fun-filled, low-stress volunteer position, and that is exactly what it has been thus far. I am honored to have been asked and thankful I said yes!
What are your big plans for Steeplechase this year? In other words, what can this year’s racegoers anticipate or look forward to that might be different from previous year’s races? We have lots of big plans for Steeplechase 2018. New this year is our partnership with Southern Living, and we are thrilled! They will host a wonderful party on friday night at The Lodge and Spa at Callaway that you do not want to miss. Elizabeth Heiskell, a.k.a. The Debutante Farmer, will be there for the debut of the new and improved best selling 1972 cookbook. On race day, Sid Evans, editor of Southern Living, will be there serving as a judge for the hat contest. Also new this year is the Liberty Utilities Hunt Club. This is a great, all-inclusive area that provides a casual V.I.P. experience for attendees. Admission tickets are $150 each, and the perks include a catered lunch, wine and beer, and live music by Neal Lucas. We also added a new, exclusive caterer in Callaway Gardens. Country’s, EPI© and It’s Your Day catering will be back again this year as well. These great additions will certainly add to the success of the Steeplechase.
Tell us a little about your responsibilities as race director and what all goes into getting ready for the big event. Since partnering with Outdoor Events, the role of the race director has changed a bit. Outdoor Events serves as the event management team and the race director serves as the main enthusiast for the event. In other words, I get to enjoy recruiting and supporting our wonderful volunteers –thank you all for saying YES– as well as reaching out and encouraging our community to come enjoy the event
Steeplechase is known for its traditions. What are some of your favorite traditions about Steeplechase, and why? I love seeing families and friends come together and enjoy a beautiful day. I adore seeing the children running around and enjoying the Kids Corral and the Jack Russell Terrier race. I always love visiting the Vendor Village and seeing all of the beautiful items. I do love a good hat, so of course I love seeing all of the creative hats in the hat contest! These traditions really bring our community together as one, and that is truly a gift that not every community can claim.
In your words, how does Steeplechase embody the culture of the South? The Steeplechase embodies the culture of the South in every way possible –it screams Southern culture! As Southerners, we love to gather and visit with family and friends while sharing a meal, all the while enjoying some sort of sporting event. The Steeplechase offers all of that and more. It truly is a perfect Southern day!
Steeplechase is a great benefit to entities in the South. How can those entities expect to benefit from this year’s event? The Steeplechase has been racing for the arts since 1985. Since that time, over $4 million has been donated to six fantastic beneficiaries that all enhance our community. The beneficiaries include RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Columbus Museum, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Springer Opera House, Historic Columbus Foundation, and Ida Cason Callaway Foundation. It is such a joy to present the money to each of these entities knowing that our community benefits greatly from each organization.