032410stoneybrook.jpgYou have but to drive through the quiet roads leading into Southern Pines, N.C., to know that you are entering horse country. The well-tended farms, populated with prime horsefl esh, hearken back to another time, a more genteel time.

It is in this environment that The Stoneybrook Steeplechase was initiated in Southern Pines by Michael G. Walsh in 1949. The race, which saw riders competing across a well-manicured course with numerous obstacles, was held annually in the spring until 1996, with attendance nearing 20,000. After a short hiatus, the race resumed as an annual spring event at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford in 2001. On Saturday, April 3, the tradition will continue as throngs gather for the 59th running of this definitive southern spring ritual.

“It is a true spring tradition in North Carolina,” said Abby Schlicht, the Stoneybrook sales manager. “It is an all day event and there is a big range of people who attend — from people who have been going since the old Stoneybrook races to younger groups who are just getting interested in the races and who enjoy tailgating.”

Whether they are coming for love of the sport, tradition or for fun, Stoneybrook promises to bring all three together for an unforgettable event.

“It’s kind of a big party all day long,” said Schlicht, noting that some people honor the event’s traditions and wear great hats and dress up, while others come more casually.

“We are really working to make it a family event,” she added, noting that a children’s activity area will be set up for this year’s event.

“We are also going to have a party tent with live music all day,” she said. “That will continue on into the evening.”

Of course, the party actually starts earlier in the week at the Casablanca Casino Gala, which will be held at the Members Club at Pinehurst Resort. The semi-formal event is a high-stakes evening of glamour and dancing, all to benefi t the Foundation of FirstHealth Cancer CARE Fund and the Carolina Horse Park Foundation.

The evening will include cocktails in “Rick’s Bar,” followed by dinner, dancing and gaming, which includes blackjack, poker, craps and roulette. But don’t worry, it’s all in fun. The highlight of the evening will be a silent auction featuring fabulous vacation getaways including a Cayman Islands condo on a private beach, a home in Twin Rivers, Montana (a true fl y-fi shing mecca), a condo in Beaver Creek, Colo., and an ocean-view home on Bald Head Island, N.C.

Tickets to the event are $150 per person, and can be purchased from the Carolina Horse Park.

Tickets for the race are going fast. Schlicht said, “To date we are a little bit ahead of last year’s sales as far as tickets go, and we’ve sold a lot of tailgate spaces and gala tickets.”

For many in the area, the tailgating is the big draw. Yes, it is a lot like going to a football game, people bring out their grills and picnic baskets, but instead of being in a parking lot, they are right on the rail, where they can see the race while they socialize.

Spaces are still available and can be purchased through the horse park’s Web site at www. carolinahorsepark.com/stoneybrook/ticket-sales. There are many different levels of ticket pricing, along with corporate party tents as well.

It is one of the social events of the year,” said Schlicht. “You don’t want to miss it.”

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