Though it’s been held for more than half a century, the Atlanta Steeplechase won’t run again. Organizers recently announced that this year’s event—held April 22 at the Kingston Downs course in Kingston, Ga., as a benefit for nonprofit Bert’s Big Adventure—was its last.
“Having undertaken a thorough and professional strategic review, during which we assessed a wide variety of options to maximize the value of the Atlanta Steeplechase, the board of stewards has concluded to make the 2017 races its last event,” stated a release on the event’s website. “This hard thought out decision is the best path forward for the Atlanta Steeplechase, its suppliers, the charity and its patrons. Numerous trends in the sporting industry, but particularly in the steeplechasing structure, have changed. The customer experience and the charitable donations are what make it all worthwhile. We want to thank everyone for a fantastic 52 years of the Atlanta Steeplechase.”
In a statement, Gene Vance—a long-time member of the race’s board of stewards—said: “Ticket sales were off, and there were just a lot of contributing factors. Some of the big sponsors backed off, and you know you want to do something for the charitable cause, so we felt this was just the best thing to do.”
Guy Torsilieri, president of the National Steeplechase Association, said he’s saddened by the termination of the race but not surprised by the decision.
“The Atlanta Steeplechase has been struggling for a while,” he said. “I was told by my stewards that it was very sparsely attended. Sponsorship and attendance were down, but I’m not sure why. It was a steady decline. There are about 32 race meets up and down the East Coast, and Atlanta was one of those. It’s always a very sad day when we do lose a race meet.”
Torsilieri said that the NSA has been working with the race for years to revive it.
“We’re constantly looking to grow the sport,” he said. “Having said that, you have to keep every meet you have and can’t lose the smaller races as you’re bringing in new ones.
In 1997 the race moved to the Kingston Downs property in northwest Georgia, just over 60 miles away from Atlanta.
“I think part of their decline was when they moved from the successful closer location to the present location a long way from the Atlanta region,” Torsilieri said.
Additionally, the event struggled with conflicting dates of other races and decreasing purse amounts. In 2008, the purse of Georgia Cup was $100,000. In 2011 it was $50,000, and this year it was set at $35,000. This year’s feature race had only four starters.
“When purses drop, you see declines,” said Torsilieri. “It’s pretty much an indication of the financial instability of the race meet. It went from a Grade 1 event to a smaller meet, to one that eventually closed its doors.”