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The March event will include five competitions and purses totaling $100,000.
By CHASE SQUIRES
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001
DADE CITY -- Flush with the success of having achieved national status in their first year, organizers of the Little Everglades Steeplechase embarked Wednesday on a citywide tour of inclusion, hoping to involve local merchants and civic groups in the March race.
Race director Karen Streaker and public relations director Beverly Green met with the Dade City Merchants Association, encouraging downtown store owners to join in the pre-race storefront competition and to have a presence in the race-day merchants village in the infield.
With the race two months away, Streaker said the new course at Bob and Sharon Blanchard's Little Everglades Ranch just north of the city limits has impressed National Steeplechase Association directors, and the course is ready for action.
Organizers are promising four steeplechase races -- where racers gallop on horseback while leaping over 52-inch fences placed along the route -- plus a regular flat horse race, children's races and other events. The top race will carry a $40,000 purse, and race-day purses will total $100,000, making it one of the richest events on the circuit.
The Dade City event was the subject of a full-page advertisement last month in the Steeplechase Times magazine, with a message from the steeplechase association across the top reading, "Welcome Aboard."
Last year's success, drawing more than 5,000 for an inaugural event that did not offer prize money to the racers, proved to the sanctioning body that an event in Florida could work, Green said.
With association officials talking up the race, and with fans talking about the good time they had, the event is expected to be substantially bigger this year, she said.
"The word is getting out," Green said. "People who came last year, they had a good time."
The goal this year is to involve more downtown merchants and create a weekend event that benefits everyone, she said.
Green encouraged merchants at Wednesday's meeting to reserve a spot in the infield vendors' village and said judges will be coming through town the week before the race to reward the best window displays that tie into the steeplechase.
"This is a brand new kind of idea," she said. "What we have in Dade City is a whole weekend event."
The Little Everglades Steeplechase is scheduled for March 11. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. at the ranch, located off Jordan Road about a mile north of Dade City limits via U.S. 301.
General admission tickets in advance are $5each or $25 for a carload, rising to $10 each or $40 per carload on the day of the event. Advance tickets are available by calling (813) 909-2354.
There are also upgrades available, from a lawn box seating 16 and including food and drinks for $5,000 to reserved infield tailgating spots for $75. Call (813) 251-5533. Trackside tents are available for $600, and recreational vehicle infield parking is $200.