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Life on the backside of the Tryon Steeplechases

A glimpse behind the scenes of the Block House Races

COLUMBUS — An hour and a half before the first race, while fans are admiring ladies in beautiful hats, laughing at the the “Go to Heck” pants contest and sipping a cold beer, a tall gray thoroughbred moves restlessly around his stall.

“Time to do up his legs,” says trainer Richard Valentine to Bob’n for Silver’s groom.

Valentine picks up two rolls of white Vetwrap, a stretchy bandage that sticks to itself, and a roll of white electrical tape. The groom slides a chain shank through the gelding’s halter and softly strokes the dappled neck.

Valentine crouches down and begins wrapping the horse’s hind legs with the bandage, carefully crossing it in a perfect figure eight around the horse’s fetlock.

“He’s [Bob’n for Silver] really sharp,” Valentine said. “He’s owned by the breeder. Breeder’s take a lot of pride in their horses.”

While Valentine is doing up his entry’s legs, the musical lilt of Irish brogues echoes from the jockey tent as riders prepare to weigh in for the first race. Slightly larger than flat race jockeys, these men still stand less than 6 feet and weigh little more than 130 pounds.

Their wind burned faces and lean wiry forms show the strength it takes to handle a 1,000- to 1,200-pound thoroughbred over fences at speeds of up to 40 to 45 miles per hour.

At 12:30 p.m., Honorary Whipper Ins for the Tryon Hounds — Kaitlyn Kubiak, Kasey Minnick and Reed McNutt — are mounted and ready near the barns. Serving as outriders for the day’s races, they will lead the horses to the post.

These riders will be available on the course, and are the first to reach a fallen jockey or a loose horse.

The outriders stand close by as grooms walk the horses in a circle prior to heading for the track. Shortly before the 1 p.m. post time, volunteers have stopped cars at the gates to make sure the area is clear for the horses.

The crowd roars as the horses step onto the lush green turf. Jockeys dressed in colorful silks and shiny black boots spill from the tent and trainers give last- minute instructions.

The grooms lead the horses in a circle as the rousing notes of “Boots and Saddles” echoes through the loud speakers.

The Block House Steeplechase is a National Steeplechase Association sanctioned race. NSA Spring races run from the end of March through the end of May.

The fall meet starts in September, and will end this year with the Tryon International at the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club track on Nov. 17.

Originally started by Carter Brown as part of the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club, the Block House Steeplechase ran for a few years in the 1920s. After a few years, it was suspended until it started up again in 1947.

This is the second year the chases have taken place at the new Green Creek Race Course facility on Highway 9.