One of Nashville’s most prominent traditions that has gone on for over seven decades will not be the same this year. The Iroquois Steeplechase attracts more than 25,000 spectators each year and is an event so many of us look forward to. Since 1941, the Iroquois Steeplechase has been one of Nashville’s most popular spring events. This time-honored tradition would be celebrating 79 years of Tennessee hospitality and Southern fashions.

Iroquois Steeplechase / Photo Credit: Anderson Design Group

This fond tradition started to evolve back in 1930 when a group of businessmen and fox hunting enthusiasts pursued a dream of building a Steeplechase course. A man named Marcellus Frost had come upon the perfect location for the racecourse that was nestled in the valley of Percy Warner Park. Frost knew that was the perfect location for the soon-to-be home of the Iroquois Steeplechase. What was most ideal about this location was the hillside for spectators to watch the race.

Iroquois Steeplechase Race Course / Photo Credit: The Tennessean

Dreams came to life when work began in 1938 for Frost and fellow businessmen Mason Houghland and John Sloan. Designed by William DuPont, the course was finished for the race in May 1941.

Race Day 1969 / Photo Credit: The Tennessean 

The Iroquois Steeplechase was named after Pierre Lorillard’s beloved Iroquois. Pierre Lorillard was an American tobacco manufacturer and thoroughbred racehorse owner.  Iroquois was the first American-bred thoroughbred racehorse to win the Epsom Derby (England) in 1881. Retiring at the Harding farm at the Belle Meade Plantation.

Iroquois / Photo Credit: Pinterest

Festivities begin around 8:30 in the morning. Many pack picnics fit for the finest, dress prim in seersucker dresses and bigger the better elaborate southern belle hats, deck their tailgates with the finest peony arrangement and lace tablecloths, while the gents raise their cups filled with Tennessee whiskey. It is no news that getting a four hour start at the Iroquois Steeplechase is a tradition to most.

Iroquois Steeplechase Traditions – Tailgate Picnics and Derby Hats / Photo Credit: Pinterest 

Early afternoon settles in, the thoroughbreds race down the 3-mile stretch, clearing 4’ fences with swiftness seen like no other. As they make their way around the course a lively party lands in the background. Many placing bets among friends, with a round of drinks on the line instead of money.

Those with roots to Tennessee horse culture and who have had box seats passed down through generations, are there for the race and most importantly the steeds. Box seat holders and high dollar Hunt Club tickets have top-notch luxury at Steeplechase.

Iroquois Steeplechase / Photo Credit: Amber Grabowski

Alongside the race itself, the Iroquois Steeplechase helps non-profits and local charities, such as Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and Friends of Warner Parks. The Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation has raised over more than $10 million for the Children’s Hospital!

Parade of Hounds / Photo Credit: Amber Grabowski 

No matter if you are on the hillside, in the infield, or in box seats, the Iroquois Steeplechase is loved by all and is one of Nashville’s most time-honored traditions that will be missed this year.