The Iroquois Steeplechase, scheduled for Saturday, May 11, 2019, is the kickoff of the social season in Nashville, the place to see and be seen by the Nashville elite. Women sport frilly sundresses and extravagant hats, men don pastel or seersucker suits for the annual event.
The idea of a steeplechase race in Nashville came to fruition in 1936 when thoroughbred breeders Marcellus Frost and John Sloan, Sr., suggested the building of a race course in Percy Warner Park. Mason Houghland, Thompson Ball and Harry Hopkins, all ardent foxhunters, commissioned William DuPont, a prominent figure in thoroughbred horse racing, to design the course. Through Hopkins’ friendship with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt the course was built under the Works Progress Administration, Roosevelt’s WPA program he formed to give work to thousands of unemployed people during the Great Depression. The course opened in 1941 with the first running of the Iroquois Steeplechase.
Why the name Iroquois?
The name comes from breeder Pierre Lorillard’s thoroughbred, Iroquois, the first American-bred horse to win the British Epsom Derby in 1881. In 1886 William Hicks Jackson, a wealthy Nashville horse breeder, purchased Iroquois from Lorillard and put him to stud on his Belle Meade plantation.
A Day at the Races
Percy Warner Park consists of three tracks: 1.5-mile hurdles, 1.25-mile timber, and a one-mile flat course. In total there are seven races with the Bright Hour, the Marcellus Frost and the Calvin Houghland Iroquois hurdles being the longest at 2.5 and 3 miles. The best viewing places may be the private boxes, but you don’t have to be of the Nashville elite to enjoy the races—grandstand seats offer prime viewing opportunities and you won’t have to dress in high fashion to sit there.
There’s more to Nashville than horse racing. Make your trip complete by visiting Downtown – Honky-Tonks – Ryman Auditorium
Legends Corner starts the “Honky Tonk Highway” at Fifth and Broadway. It’s a row of honky tonk clubs whose walls are lined with vintage album covers of past country music stars. Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson got their start at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, B.B. King’s Blues Club is known for blues performed by local musicians.
Take a tour of the grand old dame on Fifth Street, the Ryman Auditorium. Every Saturday night from 1943 until 1974 the legendary Grand Ole Opry broadcasted from here on radio and television.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum pays homage to 139 country artists with exhibits and memorabilia.
Inside a stunning Art Deco building the Frist Center for the Visual Arts hosts changing art exhibitions.
Step back in time by visiting one of Nashville’s historic homes; The Hermitage, ca. 1780, home to President Andrew Jackson and Belle Meade Plantation, ca. 1820, owned by cotton planter and horse breeder William Hicks Jackson, are both open for tours.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, once home to the Cheek family of Maxwell House Coffee fame, consists of a limestone mansion surrounded by acres of gardens designed in 1932 by famed New York landscape and residential architect Bryant Fleming.
Staying and Dining
The Hermitage Hotel, the Omni Nashville and the Union Station hotels are on Fifth and Sixth Streets and Broadway respectively. All offer Wi-Fi, LCD flat-screen televisions and upscale restaurants. The Hermitage and Omni have spas, pools and are pet friendly.
Eating at the Loveless Café is an experience that you will not find anywhere else in Nashville. This is not nouveau cuisine but Southern cooking at its finest with homemade fried chicken and biscuits and country hams, sausages and bacon smoked on the premises.
At The Farm House chef/owner Trey Cioccia exemplifies the farm-to-fork movement in cooking. He uses only locally sourced meats, fowl, dairy and produce. The menu changes weekly but could include pork belly gnocchi with blueberry compote or trout with lentils and turnips or pork steak with black-eyed peas.
Nashville is a fun, lively city full of music, culture and history. Spend time strolling the Honky-Tonk Highway and the Music Mile, admiring the art at the Parthenon, visiting RCA Studio B where Elvis recorded many hits, and taking in a Grand Old Opry show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.
JetBlue offers flights to Nashville www.jetblue.com
Images courtesy of Visit Nashville