The Queen’s Cup will celebrate 20 years of steeplechase racing in the Charlotte area April 25 at Brooklandwood Race Course in Mineral Springs.
An estimated 15,000 people are expected to come to Union County to watch 40 or more horses compete in five races, culminating in the Queen’s Cup.
There will be fanciful hats and patrons enjoying elaborate tailgate lunches at cleverly decorated tables.
The total prize money being offered that day will be $145,000: The Queen’s Cup feature race offers a purse of $75,000; three jumping events pay $30,000, $20,000 and $20,000; and the flat race is a training event, run for the experience.
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The establishment of a major regional sporting event and the building of what some would say is the finest jump-racing course in the U.S. can be credited to the persistence of Bill and Carrington Price of Mineral Springs.
Bill Price is president of Sonitrol Security Services of Charlotte.
“This is the hardest thing I have ever done,” he said.
“It’s the biggest, most complicated volunteer job I have ever had.… Carrington and I would very much enjoy the day when we can just show-up to the races and watch it without a worry in the world.”
Bill Price said the seeds of the Queen’s Cup were planed when he bought a horse, named Break Clean, in 1992.
“If the horse… had not put us in the winner’s circle seven times, I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation,” he said. “The National Steeplechase Association, the sanctioning body of jump racing in America, approached me to consider starting a steeplechase race in the Charlotte region. I thought about it, laughed about it and tried to forget about it.”
Price continued to think about the idea, however, and ultimately found a 300-plus-acre farm in southern Union County off Gus Eubanks Road, near the South Carolina border. Construction began in 1994. That spring, the couple recruited friends to help pick rocks off the future course.
The first race took place in fall 1995.
“Looking back, the best thing we ever did was have the ‘Taste of the Chase’ held on Nov. 18, 1995,” Price said.
That event set the stage for the inaugural spring Queen’s Cup race April 27, 1996.
As attendance grew, the Prices set out to find a site that would be easier to access and more permanent. That led to the purchase of the 260-acre farm in Mineral Springs, now the site of the Queen’s Cup.
In 1998 and 1999, the Queen’s Cup was run at the original site, complete with a visit from Britain’s Princess Anne and racing mystery writer Dick Francis, Price said.
Meanwhile, Price said, he and his wife raised and invested more than $2 million in the Mineral Springs location to prepare for the first race there in 2000.
To pay back loans, Price said, he took a page from NFL Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s playbook. Price sold a version of personal seat licenses. The purchases ensured the license holder a choice tailgating space.
By 2000, Price said, all the tents on Members Hill were sold and every race sponsored. By the 2008 Queen’s Cup race, the number of attendees had grown to 18,000.
Then came the recession, and attendance fell.
Price said a major bequest from the estate of Molly Parker Crosland to the Charlotte Steeplechase Association allowed Queen’s Cup to continue attracting top horses, trainers and jockeys through the tough years: 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Popularity has continued to grow.
The Prices said the hat contest is the No. 1 attraction for fans, followed by the tailgate competition.
The Jack Russell races in the morning and the Hot Walk party after the horses have run also are crowd favorites.
The Price’s vision continue to drive the event.
While some steeplechases are the meeting place of local aristocracy and others a big boozy outdoor fraternity party, the Queen’s Cup is neither.
“Our intention from the beginning was to always attract a nice, quality audience with sponsors who consider Queen’s Cup as their can’t-miss event, and racegoers who enjoy the day, the beauty of the farm, the event and the tradition,” Bill Price said. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re getting closer every year.”
John Anderson is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at email@example.com.
Want to go?
To attend this year’s Queen’s Cup steeplechase, visit www.queenscup.org or call 704-843-7070.