Riding High

They arrived in style this warm Saturday morning in April—the beau monde, that is. Perhaps that’s what Thierry Hermès would have called them if he’d seen them: Ladies donning sundresses and men sporting their finest spring suits. As founder and inaugural designer of the foremost purveyor of fine saddlery—and later luxury leather goods, high fashions and home décor that still bear his name—Hermès helmed a company whose expertise, unwavering commitment to quality and unrivaled cachet have endured for more than 170 years.

At the 43rd running of the Atlanta Steeplechase, held this year in April at the Kingston Downs racecourse in Rome, Georgia, two well-bred histories intertwined. Both seasoned and green hurdlers raced in five cups and one flat race, competing for purses that ranged from $20,000 to $100,000 each. High above the winner’s circle, at the top of the dramatically sloping lawn, the 2008 chairman’s tent—sponsored for the first time by the legendary arbiter of equestrian design—reflected Hermès style to a spectacular degree.

Adorned with glittering chandeliers and swathed in dazzling white, the tent’s French-meets-Southern elegance held more than 23,000 Steeplechase spectators at attention, its emblematic orange flags leaving no question as to the most acclaimed spot on the green. But only those bearing signature orange enamel pins were granted entrée into the exclusive affair. Among chairman Hal Barry’s distinguished guests: Gov. Sonny Perdue, comedian Steve Harvey and several notable Hermès friends and representatives.

Guests welcomed the day at noon with a buffet of delicacies in both the French and Southern traditions, including Kumamoto and BeauSoleil oysters, ahi tuna tartar, stone crab claws, organic farm ham biscuits, ginger and soy caramelized sea bass, caviar on blinis, tomato confit tarte and beef carpaccio crackers. Following a champagne toast, jockeys in racing gear led a parade of the chairman’s own Bear Creek hounds to announce the start of the races. After the 2 p.m. stakes, the W Atlanta Downtown Hotel & Residences/IronGate Capital Georgia Cup—with the largest purse prize of the day—guests savored an assortment of classic desserts, from seasonal fruit tarts and mini Key lime pies to mini Baba au Rhum and watermelon salad with fresh mint.

Not a detail was overlooked. Perched on bales of sweet-scented hay, draped elegantly with Hermès Rocabar wool horse blankets, ladies in hats sipped French champagne and soaked up the bird’s-eye view of the resplendent racecourse beyond as gentlemen tipped their hats to old friends and cheered their favorite horses onward. As tradition would have it, Hermès silk scarves and ties were in abundance. And the new eye-catching Indian Pink—pressed and folded to immaculate precision by local Hermès directeur Dyan Chandler herself—had everyone abuzz.

Guests cooled their heels for afternoon tea just before 4 p.m., readying themselves for the Fasig-Tipton Training Flat within the hour, when the chairman’s newest horse, Hourigan, took to the track. The gray thoroughbred, who had arrived from Ireland just a week and a half prior, turned out to be the chairman’s lucky charm, earning a victory his very first time in the ring. As style would have it, it marked this classic Georgia day not only as one to honor history, but also one to make it.