71st Block House Races attracts high praise, strong attendance at new venue

Published 5:34 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Balance The Budget takes first place in the $40,000 Tryon Block House Race

More than 9,000 spectators turned out for the 71st annual Tryon Block House Races – the historic steeplechase of Tryon Riding & Hunt Club – at its new venue in Columbus. The 2017 event grew from four races to six and from 17 entries to 40. The prize money more than doubled to $175,000.

Tryon Equestrian Partners’ Roger Smith, who had the vision for the new venue, was honored with a new perpetual trophy – the Roger Smith Cup. Smith commented, “This was a dream come true for me to see such a great turnout from spectators, trainers, and owners for the inaugural event. The weather and the event could not have been more perfect.”

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Balance The Budget, the thoroughbred owned by Stonelea Stables and trained by Julie Gomena, rose above the field in the most anticipated race of the day, taking the $40,000 Tryon Block House Race by almost four lengths. The now 8-year-old, took a major win last season at the 2016 Carolina Cup in Camden, S.C., before capturing victory this week at the 71st annual Tryon Block House Races in Columbus, N.C. The dashing chestnut gelding was piloted by Mark Watts of Camden, S.C, and the pair finished the 2 ¼ mile race in 4:03.80 on the new turf course, besting six other pairs.

Off track, spectators got in on the competition with the annual hat and “Go to Heck” pants contests. Pants contest winner Beau Harling of Greenville, S.C. – a 17-year attendee of the Tryon Block House Races – was highly-complimentary of the event’s new venue.

“This is my 17th year at the Block House Races, although my family has been coming for 60 years, and this new venue is gorgeous,” said Harling. “With the stage and the vendors now and the kids’ area, this event is gonna grow and considering this is just the first year, y’all have done a heck of a job. People better buy their tickets fast for next year because in three years, this event will be a sell-out.”

The opening ceremonies entertainment continued with a welcome by the Green Creek Hounds, a daring performance by the Shea Rose Vaulters, and Presentation of Colors by the Polk County Veterans Memorial Honor Guard. Sky divers descended with an American flag to the singing of the National Anthem before starting the first race.

For many families, like Amy Washburn Cooke of Bostic, N.C., the Tryon Block House Races is a tradition generations old.

“We have been coming every year for at least 20 years and our group gets bigger every year,” said Cooke. “We have three generations here today and we hope it will be their tradition as well to come every year.”

Roy Brock of Asheville, N.C. enjoyed all aspects of the event.

“We’ve had a great time here today. Great hospitality, terrific event site, horses beautiful, riders beautiful, hats beautiful, pants beautiful,” stressed Brock. “It’s really a terrific experience. I would recommend this event to anyone who wants to enjoy a beautiful spring day in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

The president of the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) – the governing body for the sport – was very impressed with the entire event.

“I think it was a fabulous day of racing,” said NSA President Guy Torsilieri. The horsemen loved it, the owners and trainers loved it. Very impressive.”

Rug Howard, chief steward, said the event was “very, very well organized.”

“It’s a beautiful race course, rode well, couldn’t have been a better day – especially for the first time,” emphasized Howard. “Whether the event is here or at the equestrian center, they [Tryon International Equestrian Center] always do a first-class job.”

Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Tryon Equestrian Partners that owns and operates Tryon International Equestrian Center, is pleased with the event and is looking forward to future growth and ongoing improvements.

“We are pleased with our inaugural steeplechase through this partnership and look forward to making the event even better for future years,” said Bellissimo. “Our goal is to continue to expand the equestrian lifestyle offerings of Tryon Resort. We are confident that the Block House Races will become one of the most enjoyable and sought-after steeplechases in the circuit. We are grateful for the positive feedback from NSA and everyone who helped make this transition smooth and successful.

For more info on the Tryon Block House Races and Tryon International Equestrian Center, visit tryon.com.

Steeplechase 2017 Results

Article submitted by Michelle McConnell Yelton