As Bobby Jonte would normally say, the Twenty Fourth Running of the King’s Tree Trials was a perfect Chamber of Commerce Day! The sky was blue, the weather mild, the grills were smoking, and the horses were ready to run. In an attempt to help the new chamber director, I served as a volunteer this year. In fact, volunteering was easy since I did not have sleepless nights rethinking all the tasks to be completed. Neither did I pray for three months for the weather as usual. Instead, the weather prayers were left to Martha and apparently, they were answered. By the way, I was only one of many volunteers working the race on November 2. The Lion’s Club, WA Students, the chamber board, and loyal friends were critical to the Trial’s success. And to make it all safe and organized was our friend Sheriff Stephen Gardner and his deputies. Everyone missed Bobby but thankful for Lee serving as announcer even though he did not get the memo to announce the annual wet t-shirt contest. Many folks were happy to see Connie serving delicious food out of her new food truck, and as usual the gatherings were in place. Tom had his group, J. D. has his, and our Andrews friends were in their usual spot by 9 AM. Thankfully the dedicated sponsors were present and new ones were added. Without a doubt, the Chamber and McCutchens are always grateful for the many sponsors and their support. Speaking of sponsors, it’s fun to talk to Chip Chase with FTC and this year was especially good since Martha had the opportunity to talk on camera. And what would the Trials be without all the horsemen who bring their animals for the day. They are always at the barn getting ready, talking shop, and comparing horses. Personally, I still believe the Jockeys are crazy to ride those fast horses, but one jockey apparently loves fast horses since he won most of the races this year. By the end of the day, the old folks were ready to go home, and the young people were still going strong. Maybe they are like the first Williamsburg settlers who planned for the races to last several days. The 24th Running was a good day and while feeling nostalgic I considered why this event is so important to our community.
To begin with Williamsburg County has a long history of horse racing. According to a document Wendel Voiselle shared, horses were important to early settlers who used them for transportation and other needed tasks. Boddie’s History noted that settlers loved their horses and obtained good ones and many plantations even had their own racing courses. To better prove the point, in 1788 the only things in the actual Town of Williamsburg were a couple of stores, two Presbyterian Meeting Houses, and a large racing course on which to test the stamina of the horses. Horse racing was a great event and according to Boddie’s History of Williamsburg, sometimes the race events would last for several days. It was said, no colony knew more about the value of good horses than did Williamsburg, nor anywhere was the racing spirit more rampart. Owners trained and rode their own horse and the keenest possible rivalry existed. Local rivalries continued for many years with Lancing Tournaments in Cedar Swamp, Horse shows in Millwood and Neil Mishoe’s Racehorses in Greeleyville.
For twenty-four years, The McCutchen Family has hosted the Trials in the Cedar Swamp Community and have worked tirelessly to provide horses, jockeys, and a safe venue. They selflessly open their farm to well over a thousand visitors and horsemen all in the name of community. As a former chamber director, I observed the entire McCutchen family’s commitment to the race, to the chamber, and was humbled by their willingness to host and prepare for the big day. For most of us, it’s a lot of work to have company, but it’s a mammoth undertaking to accommodate a thousand people and the many valuable animals who come to run. The McCutchens have been in the Thoroughbred Racing Business for years and have the contacts with horsemen all over South Carolina and the Eastern part of the United States. It’s their love of horses and their desire to promote the South Carolina Horse Industry that keeps the race going. Personally, I am thankful they accepted Mr. Treme’s suggestion for a horse race 24 years ago and happy they continue the tradition. Next year will be the 25th Running and possibly this could be the biggest and best race yet. There are many events and festivals in our community, but only one major horse race. My challenge for you is to attend and support this race so that the spirit of horse racing will continue in our community. Sadly, we were one of the last communities to host Lancing Tournaments in the United States, but now the only place Williamsburg Lancing can be seen is in the museum. Hopefully you will choose to support this annual celebration that represents our history, heritage, and of course, horses. Our community is only as good as we make it and it takes us all working together to nurture a place where we are proud to live, work, and race horses!
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