The Places

All the races and places in RAJA really exist …….

Ocala and Marion County, Florida

Raja’s birthplace prides itself on being known as “The Horse Capital of the World.” Winners of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup have been bred and trained in Ocala and Marion County. Ocala’s 600 Thoroughbred farms have produced 45 national champions, 6 Kentucky Derby winners, 20 Breeders’ Cup champions and 6 Horses of the Year. Ocala is also home to the Florida Horse Park (www.flhorsepark.com), which hosts competitions in dressage, eventing and combined driving and HITS “Horse Shows in the Sun” (www.hitsshows.com/ocala/), which draws riders from the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe to compete in one of the largest Hunter/Jumper shows in the U.S.

Saratoga Springs, New York

Nicknamed “The Spa” because of the nearby mineral springs, August in Saratoga has meant Thoroughbreds like Raja racing at the Saratoga Race Course for almost 150 years. The track has been the site of the Travers Stakes, the oldest Thoroughbred horse race in the United States, since 1864. Among Saratoga’s many traditions, one of the most famous is the ringing of a hand bell at exactly seventeen minutes before the post time of each race to call jockeys to the paddock area. Saratoga is also known as “The Graveyard of Champions” because of the great champions who have been upset in races at Saratoga. It was at Saratoga that the great Man o’ War suffered his only loss in twenty-one races; Gallant Fox was defeated by Jim Dandy, a 100-1 long shot, in the 1930 Travers Stakes; and after winning the Triple Crown, the legendary Secretariat was defeated by a horse named Onion.

The Champagne Stakes

The Champagne Stakes is a one mile race for two-year-old Thoroughbred colts held each October at Belmont Park in New York, which is also home to the Belmont Stakes (www.belmontstakes.com), the third and final leg of the Triple Crown. First run in 1867, the Champagne Stakes was named after the famous Champagne Stakes in Great Britain, which has been run every year since 1823.

The Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida is home to both the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby. If you’ve studied the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, you’ll remember he searched all over Florida for a mythical spring that was thought to be a “fountain of youth.” The race named after de Leon’s quest is run every March over one and one-sixteenth mile and is an official prep race for the Kentucky Derby. The Florida Derby is raced over one and one-eighth miles and the winner, who almost always goes on to compete in the Kentucky Derby, takes home $1,000,000.

The Winter Equestrian Festival

A “twelve week equestrian extravaganza,” the WEF (www.equestriansport.com) is held each year from January through April at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. It hosts competitions in dressage, hunters and jumpers and in 2012, some 5,000 horses and 2,800 riders from dozens of countries and almost every state will compete on its show grounds. The Festival also hosts selection trials and qualifiers for international events like FEI World Cup Finals and the Olympic Games.

The Hampton Classic

From ponies on lead lines to Grand Prix show jumpers, the Hampton Classic (www.hamptonclassic.com) in Bridgehampton, New York has it all. One of the largest outdoor horse shows in the US, it hosts the finals of the Young Jumper Championships, features stiff competition for riders in its Hunter Divisions and is the first US stop in the East Coast World Cup League, which qualifies riders for spots in the World Cup Finals squad.

The Maryland Hunt Cup and Maryland Grand National

The Maryland Hunt Cup, the oldest steeplechase in America, began in 1894 when members of the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club challenged the members of Green Spring Valley Hounds to a timber race. The race has been run over the same course since the 1920s. The Maryland Grand National began in 1898, when several young men who were too young to enter the Maryland Hunt Cup decided to start their own race, naming it after the famous English Grand National at Aintree (and popularized by Elizabeth Taylor in the movie, National Velvet!). In 2012, the Maryland Grand National celebrates its 110th running. www.marylandsteeplechasing.com