New site proposed for Block House Steeplechase

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tryon Riding and Hunt Club has entered into contract negotiations with Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP), owners of the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), to relocate TR&HC’s Block House Steeplechase to a property owned by TEP on Highway 9 in Green Creek.

The move would bring the Block House to its third location since pioneering horseman,  Carter Brown, started it in 1947 at the Block House property owned by the Alfred Plamondon family. It ran for 41 years at that namesake venue until moving to the newly created Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in 1988. That move was made because the Block House property had changed hands several times and TR&HC leaders feared they would eventually lose permission to race there.

The move from FENCE to the Highway 9 property originally named “Green Creek Equestrian Park” was first planned in 2008 when TR&HC members Roger and Jennifer Smith acquired the 96+ acres as a home for the Block House and other equine activities. The new steeplechase track was built but the arrival of the recession halted other work on the project. Then the opportunity came in 2013 for the TEP partners (including the Smiths) to acquire the nearby and much larger White Oak Plantation property, now home to Tryon Resort and TIEC.

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While TIEC has been conducting three successful years of international-level horse shows, the renamed “Tryon International Equestrian Center Racecourse” on Highway 9 has been lying fallow, in keeping with recommendations of the National Steeplechase Association, the sport’s governing body. This allows a new racecourse’s structure to settle and its turf to mature. The NSA examined the course earlier this year, gave it an A rating, and approved it for a separate autumn race date, which may premier as early as 2017.

TR&HC held two meetings in August to explain the relocation opportunity to its members and solicit their feedback. The TR&HC board of directors subsequently voted to enter into negotiations with TEP to work out details for the proposed move.

NSA Safety Concerns Behind Move

As explained at the member meetings by TR&HC Executive Director Kathryn McMahon, NSA officials have long expressed concern about the condition of the FENCE racetrack. Newer steeplechase tracks are wider and flatter, with softer footing, while FENCE is described by the NSA as having “turf that is compacted (hard), turns that are tight, and a course that is narrow and steep; in many trainers’ opinions the course is dangerous.” According to Jeff Teeter, the NSA’s Official Starter at the Block House for many years, “There is a real struggle to get horses to the Block House at FENCE… people are interested in a nice safe course.” The racetrack at FENCE is the NSA’s only “C” rated course.

“If fewer owners and trainers are willing to run their horses on the course at FENCE, it becomes harder to generate purses comparable to other race meets, which negatively impacts the profitability and viability of the Block House,” according to McMahon. With both TR&HC and FENCE being non-profit organizations, neither is in a financial position to make the types of upgrades necessary to bring the nearly 30-year-old track up to modern standards.

As presented to TR&HC members, relocating to the new A-rated TIEC Racecourse and having the financial backing of TEP would also enable TR&HC to increase Block House hospitality and add new amenities such as a designated family area with activities like pony rides for younger children.

TIEC Chief Operating Officer Sharon Decker, who was also at the member meetings, confirmed that the organization and administration of the Block House Races would continue to be managed by TR&HC, and TR&HC would also assume responsibility for management of TIEC’s new autumn steeplechase.

– article submitted by Tryon Riding & Hunt Club