Horse racing has been a favorite sport in England since the sixteenth century and naturally found its way to the North American colonies not long after their settlement. The earliest record of horse racing in South Carolina surfaces in the South-Carolina Gazette of February 1734. During the next two decades the sport increased in popularity in the colony, but it became organized when a group of lowcountry gentlemen founded the South Carolina Jockey Club in 1758.
By the early 1770s race week became the most important time of the year for many South Carolinians. Troubles with the mother country, however, interrupted horse racing, and the South Carolina Jockey Club agreed to suspend its activities for the duration of the Revolutionary War. In December 1783, one year after the British evacuated Charleston, the Jockey Club revived anew with increased membership. During the economic turbulence of the postwar period, the association disbanded in 1788 and 1791 but was reestablished each time.
At the turn of the new century, the South Carolina Jockey Club ushered in what would be called the “golden age of racing.” Not only did the club’s annual races, usually held in January or February, serve as the high point of the Charleston social season, but they also served as a common meeting place for members of the planter class from across the state. In the ensuing years the races grew considerably and drew the attention of spectators and horse breeders from other states, who entered their horses in the competition. The loss of thoroughbreds during the Civil War and the economic decline that followed led to the demise of horse racing in the state. Efforts by the Jockey Club to revive the sport failed, and the club disbanded on December 28, 1899. Its assets were donated to the Charleston Library Society.
Irving, John Beaufain. The South Carolina Jockey Club. 1857. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1975.
Sparks, Randy J. “Gentleman’s Sport: Horse Racing in Antebellum Charleston.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (January 1992): 15–30.