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3/12/2017 - Historical Society unveils historical marker for Aiken Training Track

Representing the past and the present, some special guests showed up Sunday for the unveiling of the official State of South Carolina historical marker for the Aiken Training Track.

At the end of the Aiken County Historical Society’s general winter meeting, Bud Coward pulled off a blanket that was covering the white sign with black letters and trim.

Standing with him in the ballroom of the Aiken County Historical Museum were Bill Simpson, Charlie Bostwick and Historical Society President Allen Riddick.

Coward’s grandfather, Ira E. Coward Sr., was the superintendent of labor while the Training Track was being built and he later became the thoroughbred facility’s first manager.

After Ira died in 1959, his son, W. Allan Coward, succeeded him as the Training Track’s manager.

Allan was Bud’s father.

Bostwick’s father, George H. “Pete” Bostwick, was the Training Track’s first president.

Simpson is the Training Track’s current chairman and CEO.

Before the unveiling, horseman Barry Doss, who has lived in Aiken for 11 years, talked about the history of the Training Track. He called the one-mile oval, which has a red clay base and a sandy loam surface, “the centerpiece of Aiken’s Horse District.”

More than 70 years ago, a group of individuals who were prominent in the equine industry, including Devereux Milburn and F.S. von Stade, got together and came up with a plan to build the Training Track.

“They filed a written declaration with the South Carolina Secretary of State requesting the issuance of a charter for what was to be called the Aiken Training Track,” Doss said. “They officially received that charter on May 6, 1941, and Fred Post, who had been at the forefront of the vision for the track, was named to the position of supervisor.”

The inspiration for the Training Track’s design was Keeneland, a well-known Kentucky racetrack, and Frank Phelps, an engineer from the Bluegrass State, was hired to help complete the project.

“The chosen location was 75 acres off of Two Notch Road that included parts of the Post and Mead polo fields,” Doss said. “The final design featured a 75-foot-wide homestretch, 60-foot-wide turns, a 60-foot-wide backstretch and a steeplechase course in the infield. The construction costs were about $52,000.”

In November 1941, the Training Track opened.

“By the spring of 1942, there were 200 horses committed to training at the track,” Doss said.

Since then, the thoroughbreds that have spent time galloping and breezing there have included 40 American and/or North American champions and nine members of the national Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

Those national Hall of Fame members, Doss said, are Devil Diver, Elkridge, Gamely, Gallorette, Kelso, Neji, Oedipus, Shuvee and Tom Fool.

On Saturday, the 75th edition of the Aiken Trials will be held at the Training Track. Between the third and fourth races, the historical marker will be unveiled again, Riddick said, as part of the festivities.

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.