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Iroquois Steeplechase

The Iroquois Steeplechase, a rite of spring for horse enthusiasts, has been held every second Saturday in May since 1941. The amateur horse races take place at a three-mile course of wood, water, and brush jumps at Nashville's Percy and Edwin Warner Parks and annually attracts some fifty thousand spectators. The course was a controversial Works Progress Administration (WPA) project of the late 1930s. In 1936 the WPA spent $215,000 to improve roads, entrance gates, trails, and shelters at the Warner Parks. Two years later, the agency spent another $45,000 to build a steeplechase course as well as adding $12,000 for a riding academy. William I. DuPont Jr. joined with local horse owners and the city park commission to design the course. DuPont called it "the finest course in America and one that compares favorably with famous plants in foreign lands." (1) Agency critics, however, charged that the public funds were wasted on an elite sport that could, and should, be supported by the monied class who participated in the "sport of kings." In time, the controversy faded and the Iroquois Steeplechase evolved into an annual ritual for many Tennesseans.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010