DADE CITY — When you think of horse derbies, most people imagine the very rich and very elite, dressed in fine designer clothes, dripping with jewels, nibbling on small crustless sandwiches and sipping Pimm's.
And this Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Little Everglades Steeplechase will have that. There are tables seating eight people that go for $2,500. Mercedes-Benz will have a lavish tent with exquisite food and bubbly drinks.
But, out of the 16,000 people expected to come, many of them will be regular folk, rumbling up to the Little Everglades Ranch in used cars, toting their kids and a cooler of juice boxes. Some will be dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Some will roll up in trucks and RVs and set out some lawn chairs and grill up burgers and hot dogs.
"There is a misconception," said Mike Campbell, the spokesman for the event. He said many people might be scared of coming to the event because they think it's all hoity-toity, see-and-be-seen types. He said it's not that way at all.
"There's something for everybody here," he said.
In addition to the steeplechase horse races, there will be Jack Russell terrier races, a hat contest, a carriage parade, children's games, antique cars, vendors, musical entertainment and a beer garden sponsored by the Beef O'Brady's in Dade City.
The net proceeds from the event go to charity, although this might be the first year that the founders, Bob and Sharon Blanchard, won't have to pay for that out-of-pocket. Steeplechase races take time to actually make money, Campbell said. The event began in 2000 and last year was the first time it came close to breaking even. Campbell said the Blanchards paid more than $80,000 of their own money last year to charities, such as Quantum Leap Farm Inc., the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, and Diabetic Charitable Services.
"This is their legacy," Campbell said of the Blanchards' dedication to the event. He said they want it to continue well after they are gone and for generations, to provide a community event that helps charities.
Campbell and his parents, Kevin and Andie, live in Minnesota but come down here to run the event. Kevin and Andie are entrepreneurs who took an early retirement and traveled around the country in an Airstream trailer. They stopped in Tampa four years ago and met the Blanchards through mutual friends. They believed in their cause so much they decided to give up their retirement plans. Now Mike Campbell, who is 23, has joined them in promoting Steeplechase.
"They have their heart in the right place," Campbell said of the Blanchards.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.