Tuesday, April 25 2017 1:59

Spring Into Steeplechase

Written by Rachel Alfiero and Rachel Ezrin

Witness the wonder and excitement that’s brought together crowds for decades. Step into steeplechase season and enter a world of fast-paced fun for the whole family!

Feel the thunder of hooves as they strike the ground. Hear the roar of the crowds as they share their appreciation. See the colors on the fashionable fans as they line the rails. Marvel at the masterpiece that excites every sense. Welcome to steeplechase season!

Our annual steeplechase races serve as perfect chances to celebrate the tradition of horse racing while giving back to the community through a month of fundraising events.

Soak up the sun with friends, family and even Fido—when pets are allowed, of course—over four weeks. Treat yourself to fabulous food, hob knob with business elites, and do remember to watch those captivating races.

Perfect for the whole family, steeplechase is the quintessential Brandywine Valley kickoff for your spring season!

Steeped in Tradition 

The rich tradition of steeplechase can be traced back a few centuries, to mid-1700s Ireland. The sport’s name refers to church steeples that served as reference points for the horse race as riders dashed across the countryside, testing their skills and their steeds in a race for victory—and bragging rights of course!

In the 19th century, the sport of cross country horse racing found a home in South Carolina, thanks to the father of American steeplechase, Thomas Hitchcock.

Since then The National Steeplechase Association has helped bring this thrilling sport to a dozen states across the U.S. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring together family, friends and equestrian fans alike to benefit our community through events benefiting open space preservation, clean water programs and more.

Choose from four area events this season, each with its own distinctive style and attractions. Or go to them all!

25th Willowdale Steeplechase

Looking for a new Mother’s Day tradition? This May 14th, take Mom to the Willowdale Steeplechase, marking its 25th anniversary. With 15,000 spectators and counting, this year’s race promises to be the best yet! On the race card is the $100,000 Steeplechase Challenge, for the horse and rider that win both the Willowdale Steeplechase in May and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in November.

Steeplechase races are fast paced and demanding. Horses gallop at over 30 miles per hour and jump over four-foot and higher fences. This year’s special attractions feature the Willowdale Water Jump—the only one of its kind in North America—and a ladies sidesaddle race over fences.

Willowdale is all about combining luxury and family fun. High fashion and shopping are deeply ingrained in the race’s tradition, while the Kid’s Activity Tent keeps the youngsters entertained. After brunch with Mom, check out what’s happening on the grounds, like an antique car show, Jack Russell Terrier Races and pony races.

Proceeds from the steeplechase go to The Stroud Water Research Center, Quest Therapeutic Services, and University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center.

On race day, enjoy the thrills of this “race with a view” in its natural ampitheater setting and help three worthy causes.

If You Go: Sunday, May 14. 101 E. Street Rd., Kennett Square. Gates open at 10 a.m.; races start at 1:30 p.m. Admission: $30 in advance; $40 at the gate. 610-444-1582; Willowdalesteeplechase.org.

Tip: For best tailgating, reserve a spot well before race day.

39th Winterthur Point-to-Point

Swing into spring with one of the Brandywine Valley’s signature events! With almost four decades of racing and pageantry, the 39th annual Winterthur Point-to-Point is better than ever. This heart-pounding event happens on the former du Pont estate, a lush 60-acre property known for extravagant gardens and rolling fields.

Races start at 2 p.m., but there’s plenty to do before the main event. Stop by the marketplace for unique hats, jewelry and equine-inspired apparel. Take the kids on a scavenger hunt, watch the antique carriage parade or bring your well-behaved dog for canine capers at the PAWS training tent.

Craving fine dining? Reserve a seat at the Winterthur Hunt Brunch Hospitality Tent, serving a lavish catered lunch with premium bar from 11 to 4. Take a stroll past vintage cars, courtesy of the Keystone Region Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club. And kids 4 to 10 can join in on the fun with stick horse races and pony rides.

With games, tailgating and more, this year’s race promises fun for all ages! Enjoy the excitement of racing at one of the region’s best steeplechase events.

If You Go: Sunday, May 7. 5105 Kennett Pk., Winterthur, DE. Gates open 11:30 a.m.; races at 2 p.m. Admission: $15–$30, under 12, free. $15–$25 for prepaid parking. For more, 800-448-3883; Winterthur.org.

Tip: Purchase a wristband for access to all the events.

87th Annual Radnor Hunt Races

Slip on your chicest hat and dress to the nines because the 87th annual Radnor Hunt Races are just around the corner! Come see the excitement that’s attracted crowds of 20,000 for decades.

This year’s theme, “Frolic Along the Brandywine,” commemorates George A. “Frolic” Weymouth—one of the founders of the Brandywine Conservancy, the event’s beneficiary. Proceeds benefit the open spaces and clean water programs of the Brandywine Conservancy, which has protected over 62,000 acres of land to date.

Take in this classic Chester County event on the rolling hills of Radnor Hunt Club grounds in Malvern with the whole family in tow. Show off your most fashion-forward hat in the Picnic Patron tailgating area—and maybe get a little inspiration from others, too! Set your watch for the antique carriages and carve out time to see those adorable foxhounds in their own parade.

There’s fine dining, numerous tailgates and plenty of spots at the informal parking lot along the rail to watch as racers compete for purses totaling $190,000.

Take in a spectacular horse race while helping with a good cause at this year’s Race for Open Space at Radnor Hunt.

If You Go: Saturday, May 20. Radnor Hunt Grounds, 826 Providence Rd., Malvern. Gates open at 10 a.m.; races begin at 1:30 p.m. Tickets: $75/car (includes all passengers). $175 railside parking. For more, 610-388-8383; RadnorHuntRaces.org.

Tip: Reserve tickets early so you don’t miss any of  this year’s excitement!


83rd Annual Fair Hill Races

Finish off the steeplechase season by heading down to Maryland for the 83rd Fair Hill Races. Since 1934, this race has been held on the former du Pont property and benefits the Union Hospital of Cecil County.

Fair Hill draws over 10,000 spectators to marvel at the eight exciting races, risk it big at the betting windows, and browse the Vendor Village and food concessions. A perfect way to wrap up May!

If You Go: Saturday, May 27. 402 Fair Hill Dr., Elkton, MD. Gates open at 10 a.m.; races begin at 1 p.m. Admission: $5–$15, children under 10, free. For more, 410-398-2578; FairHillRaces@gmail.com.

Tip: Leave Fido at home. No pets allowed at the race. 

10 Terms to Ponder at the Steeplechases

Maybe you’re a seasoned steeplechase fan, or maybe it’s your first year at the races. Either way, bring your railside chatter up to speed.

  1. Apprentice: A relatively inexperienced jockey.
  2. Furlong: Standard measurement in U.S. racing, equaling one eighth of a mile.
  3. Handicap: Race in which horses are assigned weights to carry, according to their abilities. In theory, the horses should all reach the finish line at the same time.
  4. Maiden: A horse that’s never won a race. A horse that won on a flat course is still considered a maiden in a steeplechase race.
  5. Novice: A horse beginning its steeplechase career.
  6. Paddock: The area where horses are saddled before the race begins.
  7. Steeplechase: A race for thoroughbreds that includes jumps.
  8. Steeplechase Start: All steeplechase races begin when the horses are aligned with the starting post, known as post position.
  9. Timber Fence: A wooden fence made from boards, logs, posts or rails.
  10. Wings: Panel on either side of the steeplechase fence. Designed to guide the horse to the fence.

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