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Courtesy of Thoroughbred Country

Excitement is building in Aiken, S.C. — a training ground for race horses for more than a century and a well-established equestrian destination known around the world — as equestrians prepare for the upcoming Aiken Triple Crown. The event takes place at the Aiken Training Track, a facility built by Fred H. Post and his son William in the 1940s for flat racers. The first Triple Crown event this spring features the 77th annual Spring Trials, set for Mar. 16, followed by the 53rd running of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Mar. 23, and the 15th annual Pacers and Polo event on Mar. 31 (rain date April 1). Aiken’s Triple Crown continues to serve as a prelude to the national Triple Crown, featuring the Kentucky Derby on May 4, the Preakness Stakes on May 18 and the Belmont Stakes on June 8. Aiken also claims 40 champions that went on to win national races, including Palace Malice, 2013 Belmont Stakes winner; Pleasant Colony, 1981 Kentucky Derby winner; Summer Squall, 1990 Preakness winner; Sea Hero, 1993 Kentucky Derby winner; and Kelso, a five-time Horse of the Year. Therefore, it comes as no surprise the area, including nearby North Augusta and several smaller towns, is called “Thoroughbred Country” and one of the city’s most popular attractions is the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum.

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Carol Timblin

Sandy soil and a mild year-round climate made Aiken an ideal place to raise and train horses, plus it was easily accessible by rail a hundred years ago. People wanting to escape the harsh winters of the north found their way to Aiken in the late 1800s and established it as a “Winter Colony.” Banksia, one of Aiken’s Winter Colony cottages, houses the Aiken County Historical Museum, where the story of these unique residents unfolds. The town’s reconstructed train station serves as a visitor center, museum, and departure point for the city’s trolley tours. President Franklin Roosevelt stopped in Aiken on numerous occasions on his way to Warm Springs, Ga., overnighting at The Willcox Inn, still a popular hotel and restaurant today. (The Rosemary Inn Bed & Breakfast in North Augusta and the Carriage House Inn in Aiken also offer outstanding accommodations.) Nine dioramas in the upstairs museum of the train station depict the history of the towns along the original South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company — Hamburg near North Augusta, Blackville, Denmark, Branchville, St. George, Summerville and Charleston. More history of the area is showcased at the Aiken County Historical Museum, the Arts and Heritage Center of North Augusta, and the Living History Park in North Augusta.

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Courtesy of Thoroughbred Country

Though Aiken and North Augusta have many attractions, galleries and events, don’t miss the lure of the area’s small towns, too, where you’ll find plenty to celebrate. Also check out the Jim Harrison Gallery in Denmark, The Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery in Barnwell, and Miller’s Bread Basket (Amish-Mennonite restaurant and bakery) in Blackville. Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site in Beech Island is home to the antebellum home of James Henry Hammond (a prominent planter, politician, and slave owner) and four generations of his family. In addition to the 1859 house, which is open for tours, the site features two slave cabins and a stable.

In addition to horses and history, Thoroughbred Country offers an abundance of cultural opportunities. An annual calendar highlight is “Joye,” this year Mar. 8-15, when Juilliard students perform at the AECOM Center for the Performing Arts (home of the Aiken Community Playhouse, Aiken Center for the Arts, and the Aiken Performing Arts), USC Aiken Etherredge Center, The Willcox, Second Baptist Church, St.

Johns United Methodist Church, and First Presbyterian Church. (For more information on Thoroughbred County, call 888-834-1654 or check out .)

144th Preakness Stakes and 95th Black-Eyed Susan

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Courtesy of Thoroughbred Country

The weekend of May 17-18 promises to be a great weekend for Thoroughbred racing fans at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Now’s the time to order tickets, buy a new hat, and plan your tailgate picnic for the 95th Black-Eyed Susan (G2), which takes place on Friday followed by The Preakness Stakes on Saturday. At press time, tickets to both events were available at , with prices ranging from $40 to $720. Options include multi-day tickets, trackside views from the grandstand and apron, and elevated race-day luxury in the Preakness Village. This marks the 11th year of InfieldFest, a full-day concert experience featuring top-tier performers and wagering opportunities, plus food and beverage options.

“The Stronach Group is committed to the ongoing success of the Preakness and to modernizing the event experience for all of our guests,” says Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns the race track. “From horsemen to fans, the focus on experience is a key driver of our business and we look forward to treating all in attendance to an unforgettable weekend.”

Experience the Victorian Age

The Victorian Age lives on in Cape May, N.J., a seaside town that’s known for its Victorian architecture. Combine a tour of the historic district with a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate on Washington Street (MAC), offered March 2, 9 and 16-28. Sign up for a Lunch & Learn discussion of “Victorian Women of Music” on March 13, “Dr. Anna Hand: Pioneering Women in Victorian Medicine” on March 20, and/or “Victorian Fathers of Science Fiction and Horror” on April 13 at the Cape May United Methodist Church. Or book a room at the Queen Victoria Bed and Breakfast Inn (609-884-5404, 800-275-4278, or ).

Go Grand 100th Celebration

This year visitors are invited to “Come, be inspired, and Go Grand,” during the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park, established on Feb. 26, 1919. A UNESCO World Heritage Site today, the park welcomes approximately six million domestic and international visitors each year. Upcoming park events include the 2019 Naturalization Ceremony on April 16 when new U.S. citizens are welcomed and the Earth Day Celebration during National Park Week fee-free day on April 20. This year’s Earth Day celebration at the Visitor Center Plaza, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., will feature informational displays about current park conservation efforts and initiatives, including water conservation, waste, recycling, composting, dark skies, smart transportation and biofuels. Visitors are also encouraged to participate in litter clean-ups throughout the park. No admission will be charge on the fee-free day but fees will remain in effect for camping, concessions, reservations, and tours. Visit for updates on planned events for 2019.

10 best countries

According to Condé Nast Traveler, Switzerland ranks as the No. 1 country in the world, followed by Japan, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, United States, Norway, and France.

10 safest countries for U.S. travelers

The website recently posted a list of the 10 safest countries for U.S. travelers. Ireland topped the list, followed by Australia, Iceland, Switzerland, Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), the Virgin Islands, Italy, Benelux countries (Belgian, Netherlands and Luxembourg), United Kingdom and Bahamas.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

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