The 76th Aiken Trials


March 17, 2018

The 76th Running of the Aiken Trials was celebrated in unison with St. Patrick’s Day, providing a theme that was embraced by spectators and participants.  The rainy day forecast may have prevented a record crowd,  in spite of marketing efforts, but those that were in attendance celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in style.

Gates opened at 10am,  despite the heavy rain.  Volunteers and vendors took their places as spectator’s trickled in, preparing for the Best Tailgating  and Best Hat Contest.  Victor Sombrero  performed a trick-riding demonstration  with his Fresian horse. The Inaugural Pony Races attracted participants near an far.  (Read more)

The first of 6 trial races started at 2 pm, with a few delays due to rain. which incidentally contributed to  nearly perfect track conditions.  There was a Foxhunt race with 3 entries representing various local Fox Hunt clubs.

The number of horses that are trained at the track has dwindled over the years, creating skepticism regarding the track’s future.  The community  embraces the challenge and manages to continue this popular tradition that seems to have a spirit of its own.  (Another attribute to the charm of this “sporty town,” (as referred by Cot Campbell)

Featured Trainer

Mason Springs

Mason Springs Training business was set up 2 years prior to Darley closing their doors in Aiken, SC by Marcus and Crystal Ryan.. Crystal started her career working for Stonerside 15 years ago.  Darley ( SheikMohammed bin Raschid Al Maktoum) purchased Stonerside.  Crystal stayed on under the New name Darley Stud and Management).  In 2010, while working in Saratoga , she met Marcus Ryan, an Irish bloke that had been with Darley for a few years, spending time at various tracks in England and Ireland.  Both Crystal and Marcus  worked for Darley,  in Aiken, SC under the supervision of Trainer/Manager Tim Jones.

While working with Tim, they decided to “pin-hook” a couple of thoroughbred horses on their own and created the business Mason Springs Training in 2011. As fate had it, they went into full operation after Darley closed, leasing a farm with a 1/2 mile track off of Cadle Crossing Rd, in Windsor, SC. 

This year they shipped in 2 out of their 12 horses in training to the Aiken Trials:

Gallanor, a 2 yr. old filly by Redeemed.  She was hard to break and the boss mare in the field, according to Crystal.  Her full brother had no desire to race.  The extra time required paid off when Gallanor won the first race with jockey Logan Bearden in the irons.

The Ryans’ entered a 2 yr old colt by Mark Valeski for the  2nd race.  He is a very cool horse, and light on his feet, did not place but certainly did everything “right,” accomplishing the experience of a racing environment.

The couple plan on bringing 5 to 6 horses to the Aiken Training Track in preparation for the Fasig-Tipton 2 Yr. Old in Training Sale that occurs  May 21 & 22nd in Omonium, MD, not far from the Pimlico track where the 2018 Preakness will be held on May 19th. 

Let's not forget the keepers of the gate!

Peter Krebbs, Pierce Buckingham, Susie Davis, Judy & Mark Munden, David McGlashon. (many assistants not pictured)

The  Gate Keepers job is one of the most dangerous and important jobs in the race horse industry.  Peter Krebbs has been Aiken Training Track’s main gatekeeper for years. It is a skill requires incredible intuition of reading horses, that comes with experience. The official tracks have a minimum of 2 men per horse.  Aiken Trials limited budget puts this in the hands of the annual gate crew.  The horses  are young 2 yr.olds, that have been introduced to the gate, but not in front of a crowd. The riders are experienced exercise riders, that have learned to give their horses to the gate crew, (same as the professional jockey at any race) and not to interfere with loading at the gate. 

Krebbs is familiar with all the horses that have been trained on this track, The Aiken Trials has opened its’ doors to outsiders (ship ins) that must be qualified as having gate experience.


Mason Springs brought their horses to the track for 2 weeks prior to the races to get this experience.

Trainers’ Crystal and Marcus, credit Trainers Brad Stauffer and Ron Stevens, trainers based out of the Aiken Training Track for their selfless assistance with this crucial task.  Another sample of the track comradeship that keeps this track alive. 

Gatekeepers must expect the unexpected, as demonstrated in the first race, when the number 1 horse wait time was more than she could handle, and fell down inside the gate.  The gate crew handled the unusual incident with caution and no casualties.

Story and Photos : Nancy b Smith