Given the choice between watching an interminable pitcher's duel or a spirited horse race, I would pick the horse race every time.
The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner, but we've got an equally good race - or series of races, actually - coming up next weekend, and a lot closer to home.
It's the annual Atlanta Steeplechase, which is held each spring at Kingston Downs on the outskirts of Rome in a bend of the Etowah River. Steeplechasing is a little different from The Kentucky Derby - but every bit as exciting. Unlike the Derby, steeplechases are run on a grass track that is interspersed with brush hurdles rising four or five feet high that the horses and jockeys must clear along the way.
But like the "Run for the Roses," the horses are thoroughbreds, the jockeys professionals, the colors vivid and the pageantry rich. The Steeplechase won't have a worldwide TV audience and won't be watched by millions, but you can count on between 20,000 and 30,000 partygoers crowding into Kingston Downs for the day, many of them with traditional mint juleps or other beverages in hand.
The not-for-profit 501(c) 3 Atlanta Steeplechase benefits Camp Southern Ground Inc. and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. The former was founded by Grammy-winning musician Zac Brown to help children to overcome academic, social and emotional difficulties. Proceeds from the Steeplechase will also go toward building a much needed new hospital for animals and supporting the educational programs of the UGA Vet School.
The Atlanta Steeplechase has accumulated four decades of tradition and took place for its first five years at Horseshoe Bend in Roswell, which at the time was still "country," rather than suburban sprawl. The sprawl caught up with the race, prompting a move in 1971 to Seven Branches Farm just outside Cumming in Forsyth County. But plans for routing a state highway through the site prompted another move in the mid-1990s, this time to the present site along the Etowah. Unlike the Forsyth location, this track is in a natural bowl-shaped little valley, allowing spectators to view the entire race from anywhere along the track.
And that's not all there is to see, by any means. The track is lined with huge colorful party tents sponsored by various metro corporations.
The infield is filled with partygoers as well - sort of like the infield of a NASCAR racetrack, just more fashionably dressed. For a more exclusive experience, there is the panoramic view from "The Hill" overlooking the finish line. Tailgating there is apt to take place next to a Rolls-Royce or vintage Jaguar and feature silver candelabras and champagne.
For ticket information, go to the Steeplechase Web site at AtlantaSteeplechase.org or dial (404) 237-7436. General admission tickets can be bought online at ticketmaster.com or charged by phone at (404) 249-6400. By the way, there are no ticket sales at the event.
A couple more tips if you should decide to go: Don't make the mistake the Kirby family made a few years back and forget to apply sunscreen until it was too late! And don't forget to pack rain gear if the weather looks threatening. Last year's Steeplechase took place in a monsoon - and the races are run regardless of the weather.
One last tip: Wear comfortable shoes. The event is taking place in a horse pasture, after all!
Joe Kirby is Editorial Page editor of the Marietta Daily Journal.