High Hope Steeplechase, a fixture at the Kentucky Horse Park, is canceled for 2013

kward1@herald-leader.comMay 11, 2013 

The High Hope Steeplechase, which would have celebrated its 46th running, has been canceled this year because of a lack of entrants and concerns about the course at the Kentucky Horse Park, organizers said.

The event had been scheduled for May 19. It regularly draws more than 10,000 people to the Horse Park.

Jessica Stith, executive director of the non-profit High Hope Steeplechase Association, which runs the event, said the decision was made "months ago" not to have steeplechase racing this year.

The Horse Park's executive director, John Nicholson, said the park did not participate in the decisions to cancel either the steeplechase racing or the entire event. He said there had been "no discussions" with High Hope officials about the condition of the course.

The association had planned to go ahead with some races on flat turf, and other activities, Stith said, but it had not received as many entries as usual and would not have been able to have as many races. In addition to horse racing, the High Hope Steeplechase also included dog trials, children's activities and crafts.

The association decided Friday to cancel the entire event, Stith said. Without steeplechase racing, "it's just not the same," she said. "They want to see what they've seen."

The organization sent an email to "Fans and Friends of the High Hope Steeplechase" and posted an announcement regarding the cancellation on its Facebook page and website, Stith said.

When asked why the High Hope decided to cancel steeplechase racing several months ago, Stith responded: "We just were not real happy with the condition of the course." She added later, "You can't tell people to stay off of it."

High Hope leases the property from the Horse Park. Nicholson said Saturday that many competitions held each year — including the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event — incorporate parts of the course used by the High Hope Steeplechase.

"The horse park has an excellent reputation for competition," Nicholson said. He noted that the High Hope Steeplechase has been held at the Horse Park since before the horse park officially opened in 1978.

"Because this event is an important tradition for the Kentucky Horse Park, we intend to be fully engaged in the future of the High Hope Steeplechase," Nicholson said. "We intend for it to return to its great glory."

A meeting between High Hope and Horse Park officials to discuss future plans has been scheduled for Thursday, he said.

Nicholson said the Horse Park learned a couple of weeks ago of High Hope's decision not to hold steeplechase racing this year and found out Friday that the 2013 event was being canceled.

The High Hope Steeplechase Association offered to refund donations that have already been made or keep them "for disbursement to our charities this year," according to the email. It said items donated for silent auctions could be returned or kept for next year's event. The steeplechase serves as a fundraiser for organizations such as Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation.

Stith said $20,000 was given to charities last year, the 45th anniversary of the High Hope Steeplechase.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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