ELLOREE -- Horse racing excitement and tailgating fun come together each March at the Elloree Trials.
Thousands of people -- 5,000-plus most years -- arrive at the Elloree Training Center early to set up coolers, cookers and tables covered with homemade entrees and side dishes.
And while adults relax after a week of work, children spend time away from their electronics, kicking a ball around or blowing bubbles and watching them fly away.
The event got its start in 1939 when land was purchased for the purpose of building a race track.
On July 25, 1940, Palmetto Racing Park Inc. officially opened with lancing tournaments and horse races, drawing a crowd of thousands.
Gambling was legal at the time but was halted in 1947 when Strom Thurmond was elected governor of South Carolina.
Horse racing at the track halted, and Palmetto Racing Park fell silent.
In 1960, Phil Utman, a thoroughbred owner/trainer from Iowa, purchased the facility and revitalized it as Utman Training Center.
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Utman’s dream to revive horse racing at the track also spread to local Elloree leaders and civic organizations who arranged for the first Elloree Trials in 1962. The event has been going strong ever since.
Utman Training Center eventually became Pine Hill Farm when it was sold to William Meaut, a Virginian.
It wasn’t long before Franklin “Goree” Smith purchased it. Smith still owns the Elloree Training Center on Racetrack Road.
The late Chris Antley of Elloree, a nationally known jockey, competed in several races at Elloree Training Center.
Racers all compete for the Elloree Cup, the top prize of the races.
In addition to the races, the event also features contests for Miss Elloree Trials, hats and best tailgate.
This year the trials will be held Saturday, March 23.