Sweet Home Alabama, gelding, owned by Leighton Bell and ridden by Wylie Cox Bell took home the Grand Championship Win at the Kiawah Cup, Saturday March 25, 2017. Sweet Home Alabama won the Gelding Heat and Lilly of Blackberry Ridge Farms, owned by MJ Goodwin and ridden by Jennifer Malone won the Mare Heat. According to traditional rules, the final race is between the Heat Winners of each division; Stallion, Gelding and Mares. (No Stallions were raced at the Kiawah Cup, mares and geldings only). This years final race set up like a match race due to having only two divisions.
I took the opportunity to interview Wylie Cox Bell on her win, her racing, and the horses she rode in the both the Mare and Gelding Heats. Bell has ridden in many of the Marsh Tacky Beach Races since they were re-introduced in 2009 by the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. She loves the racing and the thrill of the speed. Bell rode Sweet Home Alabama in the Gelding Heat and Southern Breeze in the Mare Heat. Southern Breeze was beaten in the Mare Heat by horses Lilly and Cowgirl.
Bell knew that Sweet Home Alabama would be a good contender for the race as he has been to the Beach Races four times already, once winning the Gelding Heat in 2013. Asked if she was confident that he would take home the Beach Race Championship, “NO! Absolutely not.” Bell said. “I’m proud of Bama’s spirit and competitiveness, and it gave me the big win that I’ve wanted for a long time.”
“NOW, I’ll be spending the next months reining in that race mentality so that I have a safe riding horse.” Bell has been through the changing of a steady mount to a flashy racer and back a few times. She lets the horse be a horse and let the racing memory fade before asking for anything. Bell mentioned that some horses do not seem to recover quickly from the changeover. However,”As for those who have Marsh Tackies who can race and go back to being just a pleasurable riding horse, hug and kiss that horse and never let him or her go.”
I asked her about the preparation it takes for the Beach Race,”Preparing for the race, I put about two weeks of good conditioning on them. I also had April Brigman help me breeze them out a couple times. But otherwise, it was a lot of working trots and lengthy canters.” She has had experience with Sweet Home Alabama, Southern Breeze and Sage to name a few of the horses she has ridden on the sand.
Southern Breeze is Wylies personal horse and is often ridden by her 73 year old mother at home; to put her in the beach race was certainly a change of pace for her. “Every horse is different and racing will affect each one of them differently.” Bell described Breeze as being totally out of character, “Breeze is a very fast mare, but she can’t handle the racing mentally. I hate the impression that many got of her at the races, where she was a frazzled mess.” Bell said, “when it comes to the racing, she just gets too anxious about it. But I’m proud of the two races she gave me Saturday, but she is now officially retired from racing. I owe it to her. She’s done it for me 4 times.”
I asked Bell what information new Marsh Tacky horse owners that might like to take a turn at the Beach Races would need to know. “The bigger thing is just knowing, can your horse run straight and with confidence? Will it spook at a jump start or can it jump off that line with confidence? Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, you can at least give it a shot (if you are a confident rider) and let your horse experience the beach and a crowd and all the fan fare.”