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66th Block House Steeplechase

Frisday, April 20, 2012

66 th Block House Steeplechase

In memory of Gerry Helder

This year’s 66th running of the Block House Steeplechase is dedicated to the memory of the late Gerald Helder who, for two generations of race fans, was the official “Voice of Tryon” as the announcer who called the card each spring for 47 years. Helder, who passed away in June of last year, had attended the races every year even after he retired from his announcing career in 1994. It was a career that began quite by accident with the very first Block House Steeplechase organized by Carter P. Brown and held on April 5, 1947. Helder – like Carter Brown a native of Holland, Michigan – was working at Brown’s Pine Crest Inn that spring and agreed to his employer’s suggestion to act as the host for the radio announcer from Spartanburg who’d been assigned to call the three races on that first card. “Mr. Brown had asked me to take the sports reporter from WSPA to lunch, so I could bring him up to speed on the horses and jockeys who’d be running,” Helder once recalled. After lunch, Helder led the reporter up onto the roof of the Block House, overlooking the original racecourse on Blockhouse Road, where a platform had been erected for officials.

“Gerry never missed a Block House race, so I’m sure his spirit will still be there when the starter’s flag goes up for the first race this year.” -- Charles Lingerfelt

“But when the horses started coming out of the paddock,” Helder went on, “the man froze up and forgot everything I’d told him. Next thing I knew, he handed me the microphone.” Helder did such a fine job that he returned for the job every year afterward. But Helder’s participation in the races wasn’t limited to announcing. He and his brother Jimmy were among the riders in the steeplechase’s race over timber for several years, as both men were enthusiastic horsemen. Nor was his announcing limited to the Block House Steeplechase. Helder frequently announced at equestrian events in and around Tryon, including the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club’s annual spring horse show at Harmon Field and at hunter trials held at Fairview Farms during the mid-1970s. “Gerry was a fixture of the races for

Gerry Helder

so many years, it’s hard to realize he’s gone,” said TRHC President Charles Lingerfelt. “Gerry never missed a Block House race, so I’m sure his spirit will still be there when the starter’s flag goes up for the first race this year.” – article submitted by Laura Weicker

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