Return of a South Carolina horse racing tradition

Marion Dupont-Scott responsible for inaugurating the nation’s premier steeplechase event 53 years ago

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

There is so much to celebrate about South Carolina and yet far too much is either taken for granted or simply not known. Take for instance our equestrian (horse) culture, history, and tradition. Horse racing – including flat track and steeplechase – is huge here in the Palmetto State and it has been for 200-plus years. Today of course we have races in Aiken, Charleston, and elsewhere within several of our smaller communities. Then there’s the city of Camden, the oldest inland city in South Carolina, and its annual Spring rite of passage, the Carolina Cup, which is held at the world-famous Springdale Racecourse. And for years there has been the tier-one championship competition of the Colonial Cup, also at Springdale, which ended in 2016 with one run in 2018 and will be returning in the Fall of 2024.

Last week during a press conference announcing the return of the Colonial Cup, I learned yet another of the fascinating pieces of our South Carolinian culture: And yes it’s directly related to our state’s rich equestrian history.

Most of us are familiar with the Colonial Cup – that race ran for nearly 50 years (I attended at least two Colonial Cup races 10-plus years ago ) – though the Colonial Cup was not nearly as well-known or attended as the Carolina Cup with all of the Carolina Cup’s associated race-day parties and eve-of-race soirees. That said, the Colonial Cup was far more important for horse owners and jockeys than the Carolina Cup in terms of national, even international, steeplechase competition.

Marion Dupont-Scott

The Colonial Cup was founded in 1970 by the late thoroughbred owner, thoroughbred breeder, and Dupont heiress Marion DuPont Scott, the granddaughter of the 19th century Delaware Adjutant General Henry Dupont and great-granddaughter of world-renowned chemist and industrialist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (aka DuPont) de Nemours. Yes, the sprawling former DuPont May facility between Camden and Lugoff on the Wateree River was one of the many Dupont family namesakes.

But this is not the interesting piece I’m talking about. Stay with me –

Among Mrs. Scott’s many properties were Montpelier, the Virginia plantation home and estate of former U.S. President James Madison, and Holly Hedge, a mansion and 250-acre estate in Camden near the now-famous 500-acre Springdale Race Course which she also owned and ultimately bequeathed to the state of South Carolina.

Mrs. Scott passed away in 1983. The Colonial Cup, which as mentioned was founded by her in 1970, ceased running as a stand-alone steeplechase racing event in 2016, and it ran only in 2018 as part of the Carolina Cup. “Financial restraints” were among the reasons for the Colonial Cup’s hiatus given by Carolina Cup Racing Association (CCRA) officials.

Randolph Scott

But here’s what’s truly interesting to me personally: Mrs. Scott was married to none other than the famous Hollywood cowboy actor Randolph Scott. My dad was a huge fan of Randolph Scott, one of the quick-drawing, hard-riding good guys of the Old West, particularly during the decades of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s when Dad and his buddies were attending the old Saturday movie-theater matinees. Dad was also a big fan of John Wayne, and in later years he became a fan of Clint Eastwood and the spaghetti westerns like his son. Still, for Dad, Randolph Scott was always king of the high plains.

All this to say, yes, the Colonial Cup will begin again on Nov. 17, 2024. It’s considered “the premier race” on the nation’s steeplechase circuit so-says Toby Edwards, a former champion jockey who today serves as CCRA’s executive director.

“It’s the super bowl of steeplechase,” says Dr. Tom Mullikin, acclaimed global expedition leader and CCRA’s board chairman.

And we can all thank the late renowned horsewoman Mrs. Randolph Scott, the bride of the late great Hollywood cowboy, for enshrining the Colonial Cup on the national steeplechase circuit in the first place.