When Cot Campbell decided to sell his training farm in Greenville, Georgia, he knew just where he wanted to move. Campbell had visited Aiken, South Carolina, several times. He had seen the great Thoroughbred Kelso train at the famous Aiken Training Track, and was good friends with Mike Freeman and Mack Miller, trainers who were based in Aiken during the winter months. Most horsemen would agree that Aiken offers ideal surroundings for training Thoroughbreds and Campbell knew well the quality of the area.
The Aiken Training Track was established in 1941. The mile track has a base of red clay with a sandy loam cushion and excellent drainage. Nearby there is a 5/8ths sand track, grass fields and miles of wooded trails for relaxing rides. The environment is one of tranquility— perfect for the young yearlings who come to Aiken for their early education, and also wonderful for the older, seasoned runners who need a break from the track.
The town itself is a balm for those who are the guardians of the Thoroughbreds. With a population of 25,000, Aiken is a comfortable place to live and work. But have no doubt, for all its fine restaurants and old inns, Aiken is a horse town. Just look at the road signs— horse heads are painted on every one. There are also traffic signals that allow equestrians to stop vehicles so that the horses can have the right-of-way.
This equine culture first blossomed in the late 19th century, when wealthy Northerners established a “Winter Colony” in Aiken. They were attracted by the temperate climate, but soon found that the sandy soil was perfect for conditioning their horses. Aiken’s first polo match was played in 1882 and polo continues to be a much-loved tradition. There is also fox-hunting sponsored by the Aiken Hounds hunt club in the famed Hitchcock Woods, a 2,000 acre preserve which is the largest urban forest in the United States and virtually in the middle of town.
Photos by Shelly Schmidt