The masses that descend on Camden's Springdale Race Course for Saturday's Carolina Cup will appreciate the steeplechase horses - the excuse for a spectacle called South Carolina's rite of spring.
But a day or two later, the thousands who cheered the powerful jumpers will forget about steeplechase - until this time next year.
Be sure, though, that the citizens of Camden and Kershaw County will remember. A slogan from the South Carolina Equine Park - "Our Horses Mean Business" - sends a clear message.
Camden and the surrounding area have been a mecca for horses and horse aficionados since... well, far longer than anyone can remember.
"Back to at least the early 1900s," said John Cushman, former executive director of the Carolina Cup, who owns The Tack Room in Camden. "Places such as Camden, Aiken and Southern Pines (N.C.) became winter colonies before Florida developed, and a lot of the people who came were horse enthusiasts and brought horses for fox hunting, bird hunting and such. The horse became ingrained in the area."
Those early horsemen discovered Camden's climate and sandy soil suited the animals, and those assets remain more than a century later.
"When the babies (young horses) come here, we don't even put shoes on them until they breeze," thoroughbred trainer Frankie Wooten said. "The soil is that good."
The thoroughbreds are only part of the equine puzzle in Camden. The focus centers on the Carolina Cup and the more prestigious Colonial Cup in the fall. Forgotten by most are the training facilities, the equine park that stages upward of 40 shows annually, private horse farms, the National Steeplechase Museum and the Camden Hunt, with its 12,000 acres protected for equine use.
"Very diversified," Laura Shull, chairwoman of the South Carolina Equine Promotion Foundation said of the nonprofit equine park. "We have shows featuring walkers, quarter horses, paints, hunters and jumpers. We have rodeos. We have almost everything related to horses."
All those factors translate into an economic bonanza, which statistics from 2010 illustrate. Hope Cooper, executive director of the National Steeplechase Museum and the promotion foundation's secretary, noted an estimated 2,470 horses occupied stalls and most stayed two to four days. An average of three people accompanied each horse.
The result: almost $2.8 million in direct and indirect spending that impacted restaurants, hotels and merchants.
"The beauty of this is, horses need some services such as feed, veterinarians and farriers," Cushman said. "The labor is very specialized, and the work cannot be computerized. The industry requires manual labor. Think about a couple of thousand horses... that's a lot of workers."
Citizens understand those numbers, and the community and governments came together to form the equine park after a privately owned facility on the site failed financially. The county owns the park, and the South Carolina Equine Promotion Foundation oversees its operation.
"We had wonderful support from all levels of government, and we had a lot of volunteers," Laura Shull said. "We upgraded the facility, which has such great potential, and we're looking for even better things in the future."
The late Frank Whiteley, one of racing's legendary trainers, made Camden his winter headquarters for years and regularly visited the Camden Training Center after his retirement. Some of racing's greatest horses - Damascus, Forego and the filly Ruffian - spent time in the area. Jonathan Sheppard - another hall-of-fame trainer, who holds the record for steeplechase victories - keeps horses in his Springdale barn most of the year.
"There is a lot more to the thoroughbreds than the 'name' horses," said Kip Elser, who operates Kirkwood Stables. "Horses who got their start in racing here win races all over the world. The area is a great place to get young horses started, and if you can't get a horse ready (to race) here, the horse will never get ready."
Wooten agreed, saying: "We have all the facilities we need. We can train on the flat, the jumpers have their areas, we can gallop through the woods. All those different things allow horses to stay fresh."
Dale Thiel, a member of the Carolina Cup Racing Association's board of directors, once estimated that more than 700 thoroughbreds pass through the area's training centers each year. That ensures a revenue stream, Elser said.
"Horses create a 12-month-a-year industry," Cushman said.
A name dear to the horse community is Marion duPont Scott, the late owner, breeder and philanthropist who left the Springdale Race Course and an endowment to the state of South Carolina with the caveat that the land remain solely for equine use in perpetuity.
"That was a great gift to the state and even greater to the community," Cushman said.
Her gift assures horses will remain a prominent part of the community's fabric.
Carolina Cup visitors might forget about the horses, but the folks in the Camden area won't. They know the millions of dollars the industry represents.