Type to search

All You Need to Know About the Races Around the Main Line Region

Share
Photo by Jim Graham

From race safety to tailgate picnics, here’s a guide to everything you should know about the local races across our region.

POINT-TO-POINT AT WINTERTHUR

For more than 40 years, Delaware has celebrated its own version of the Kentucky Derby each May. In 1978, Greta “Greets” Layton, a Winterthur trustee, wanted to make the community more aware of the museum and garden. When fellow trustee Julian Boyd suggested a steeplechase race, Layton saw it as a perfect fit.

The first race was held on May 6, 1979. It was a small, casual affair with no cash prizes, only silver trophies modeled after early American silver in the Winterthur collection. Today, Point-to-Point at Winterthur is known for its grand tailgate picnics, high-stepping carriage horses and stylish Rolls-Royces.

races picnic

Photo by Jim Graham

When the Delaware Legislature passed a law in 2006 that allowed Winterthur to offer cash purses, Point-to-Point became sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association. Today, the course is a challenging 1.5-mile figure-eight run twice over 17 timber fences. Races include the Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial ($20,000 purse), the Winterthur Bowl ($25,000 purse), the Vicmead Plate in Honor of Louis “Paddy” Neilson III ($15,000 purse) and the Middletown Cup.

Located on beautiful Kennett Pike outside Wilmington, Del., Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library encompasses more than 900 acres of quintessential Brandywine Valley landscape, 70 acres of world-class gardens and a stunning mansion featuring the most significant collection of American decorative arts in the world. From the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, Winterthur was home to three generations of the du Pont family.

garden

The gardens at Winterthur. Photo by Jeanette Linvgid

The museum was founded by collector and horticulturalist Henry Francis du Pont on the estate that had been his home since childhood. His 175-room house features furniture, home accessories and works of art made or used in America from 1640 to 1860.

With harmonious color and successive blooms year-round, the 70-acre Winterthur Garden was designed by Henry Francis du Pont and is one of the oldest continually operating naturalistic gardens in North America. It’s also a resource for scholars, landscape architects and horticulturists.

Winterthur Library provides staff, students and the general public with research materials about American decorative arts. It’s open to the public free of charge. In partnership with the University of Delaware, Winterthur also offers two graduate programs focused on the study of art conservation and American material culture.

Winterthur also hosts films, musical performances, lectures for scholars and the general public, and study programs on decorative arts. Among its popular family programs are annual events like June’s Enchanted Summer Day and October’s Truck and Tractor Day. Winterthur also hosts the Delaware Antiques Show, a top-ranked weekend-long fall event. A beloved Brandywine Valley tradition, Yuletide at Winterthur tours depict American holiday celebrations of the past, along with the holiday rituals of the du Ponts.

Visitors are always free to explore the estate. All outdoor areas are available to members year-round. The retail store offers books, clothing accessories, decorative items for home and garden, children’s gifts, and more.

Winterthur’s largest single-day fundraiser, Point-to-Point supports maintenance and preservation of the gardens and estate. The annual event was spearheaded in 1978 by Greta “Greets” Layton, who grew up around horses and steeplechasing. Drawing on the knowledge of Russell B. Jones Jr., Louis “Paddy” Neilson III and other local horsemen, Layton launched the organizational effort. The first weekend in May seemed an ideal time for the race, as it didn’t conflict with the Radnor Hunt Races and other area equestrian events that already featured prominently in sporting and social calendars. It also rounded out a series of race meets hosted by the Delaware Valley Point to Point Association.

For the first Point-to-Point in 1979, spectators were mainly hardcore enthusiasts of the sport. They dressed in country clothes and sat on blankets, or they stood on hillsides to watch the action. More than 1,000 people attended the event—a far cry from the 16,000 the event draws today.

In the early years, winners of the five races were awarded trophies modeled after notable pieces of silver in the Winterthur collection. Races were named after people and organizations familiar to Winterthur supporters and area residents: the Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial, the Vicmead Plate, the Middletown Cup, the Winterthur Bowl, the Crowninshield Plate, and the Greta Brown Layton. The latter, a trophy in honor of Greets Layton, was awarded to the owner, trainer or rider who accumulated the most points.

A historic change in the event occurred in 2006, when the Delaware Legislature passed a law allowing Winterthur to pay purse monies to winning owners. Now sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, Point-to-Point is the second professional sporting event in Delaware— and it’s now a highly anticipated event. For many, it signals the start of spring and summer outdoor activities. Several generations of families have helped organize Point-to-Point, and they also compete in the races. Preparations take place year-round and involve all departments at Winterthur. The course is fertilized and mowed; jumps are maintained; hedges and border plants are trimmed.

The event is a celebration of Winterthur’s long history as a farm and country destination. For generations, much of the racecourse served as pastureland—first for sheep, then for dairy cows. Today, motorists enjoy sweeping views of the meadows and the racecourse throughout the year. In May, it all undergoes a transformation for one of the Delaware Valley’s premier sporting events, drawing families from around the region.

Visit winterthur.org.

RADNOR HUNT RACES

Celebrating 91 years in May, the Radnor Hunt Races are a time-honored tradition in Chester County, Pa. With roots that go back over 250 years to Ireland and England, steeplechase has a rich history and tradition in the Mid-Atlantic. The beautiful pastoral landscapes that make up this region mimic the ideal conditions of the sport’s origins abroad, while also reflecting land-conservation efforts.

As one of the oldest regional steeplechases, the event is an annual rite of spring that dates back to 1930. That tradition continues in 2022 on the third Saturday in May, with professional jockeys and thoroughbred horses competing in five jump races for their chance at valuable purses.

The Radnor Hunt Races will follow all CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidance on COVID-19. The event is held rain or shine, so there are no refunds offered.

The Radnor Hunt Races and many of the annual steeplechase events that take place in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware are held on land permanently protected by the Brandywine Conservancy and its partners. The legacy of protecting open space has allowed the sport of steeplechase racing to flourish in this region. More than 30 percent of Chester County alone is protected open space—totaling over 140,000 acres.

While the connection between open space preservation and steeplechase racing has always been part of Radnor Hunt’s heritage, it wasn’t until the fundraising partnership with the Brandywine Conservancy began that the event became associated with “Racing for Open Space.” The two joined forces over 40 years ago in a partnership spearheaded by the late Mrs. J. Maxwell “Betty” Moran and the Conservancy’s late cofounder, George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, that has since raised over $5 million.

the preserve at the races

Brandywine Conservancy’s Laurels Preserve. Photo by C. Bowers

The Brandywine Conservancy is a leader in protecting water and preserving the breathtaking landscapes, rich history and active farmland in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Since 1967, the organization has protected over 69,000 acres of open space, including the Radnor Hunt racecourse itself and surrounding lands. It continues to improve and safeguard water quality, land protection, outdoor recreation and historic preservation throughout the region. It works closely with private landowners who wish to see their lands protected forever, and it also provides innovative land use and environmental planning services to municipalities and other governmental agencies.

Visit brandywine.org/conservancy.

WILLOWDALE STEEPLECHASE

The excitement continues with the 29th running of the Willowdale Steeplechase on Saturday, May 14. This much-loved Chester County tradition resumes at full spectator capacity this year with six exciting steeplechase races.

What began as a vision by community leader W.B. Dixon Stroud Jr. is now a premier racing event and a perfect day of fun activities for the entire family. The first Willowdale Steeplechase came about when Dixon—who’d competed at the highest levels in steeplechase and polo competition—decided it was time to have a top-notch steeplechase event in the heart of Chester County’s Cheshire Hunt Country. Combining his love for the sport and his commitment to the community, Stroud enlisted the help of many others for the inaugural running of the Willowdale Steeplechase in 1993. Since then, the event has raised over $1 million for local charities.

Willowdale features a world-class steeplechase course in a community known for its top jockeys, trainers and owners. For the 29th running, Willowdale welcomes back the Pony Races, Jack Russell Terrier Races, boutique shopping, food vendors and the fun and educational Kids’ Alley. Family and friends can pack their picnics, put on their best hats and race outfits and enjoy the fun of the tailgate, hat and best-dressed competitions.

In response to the pandemic, Willowdale will follow all state and local COVID-19 guidelines while returning to its traditional spectator model—with the addition of a limited number of last year’s Private Party Paddocks. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, this exclusive tailgating opportunity includes parking for one car, a 10-by-10-foot tent, a table and admission for up to 10. Each area will be designated at 12 feet from neighboring paddocks. This year, Willowdale is also introducing something new: the elegant Jockey Club at Willowdale, where tables are available for purchase.

From general admission to tailgate parking to Private Party Paddocks, your options are many.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Willowdale Steeplechase raises funds for clean water and veterinary excellence through donations to the Stroud Water Research Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center.

races

On the job with Stroud Water Research.

Stroud Water Research Center

Polluted water is a threat to all of us— humans and horses alike. This winter, snow and ice brought more than risky road conditions to the mid-Atlantic region. To protect public safety, trucks spread tons of salt and brine along roadways. The unintended consequence; risks to the environment, including sources of drinking water.

To combat this threat and others to freshwater streams and rivers, Stroud Water Research Center is guiding an effort to mobilize and train a network of volunteers, currently more than 160 strong, throughout the Delaware River basin to monitor water quality. The network includes 120 sites and uses the Stroud Center’s EnviroDIY Monitoring Stations to collect data in real time. The data can then be viewed anywhere in the world on Monitor My Watershed (monitormywatershed.org), an online tool for sharing and visualizing environmental data.

Using this technology, volunteers with Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership in Philadelphia measured electrical conductivity (which rises with salinity) as high as 58,000 microsicmens per centimeter—higher than typical seawaier— after winter storms. Near-seawater conductivity spikes have been measured in some tributaries to the Brandywine, Chester, Tacony and Wissahickon creeks, and half-seawater spikes have been measured in other tributaries to the Brandywine, Tacony, and Cobbs creeks.

In reviewing the data collected by these volunteers and others, Stroud Center senior scientist John Jackson observed an alarming trend: salt concentrations in some streams remain elevated year-round. Worse yet, published research from Jackson and entomologist David Funk indicates that salt is even more toxic to aquatic life during summer months, when the stream water is warmer. “Without these volunteers and the large network we’re building, it would’ve been much harder to find these problem sites,” says Jackson. “The next step is to do something about it.”

Through its multimillion-dollar Delaware River Watershed Initiative, the William Penn Foundation is funding the effort that is supporting the Stroud Center and more than 50 other leading nonprofits working together to reduce threats to water quality for the 15 million people—more than 5 percent of the U.S. population— who get their drinking water from the Delaware River basin.

Penn Vet New Bolton Center

Some advice is best ignored—like the warning Penn Vet New Bolton Center’s Dr. Kyla Ortved received while volunteering in a small animal clinic as a teenager. One of the clinicians told her vet school was too hard to get into. The woman recommended that Ortved do something else.

taking care of the horses

Penn Vet New Bolton Center’s Dr. Kyla Ortved.

Fortunately for horse owners, students and veterinary science in general, Ortved paid little attention. Twice board-certified (by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation), Ortved is now a rising star in equine sports medicine and large-animal surgery. She runs the Ortved Laboratory at New Bolton Center, which studies post-traumatic osteoarthritis and explores regenerative medicine therapies to benefit horses and humans. “I have a very specific memory of when I decided to specialize in surgery,” says the Jacques Jenny Endowed Term Chair in Orthopedic Surgery. “During one of my externships, a resident invited me to participate in a procedure. The horse was under anesthesia for a surgery to cut the check ligament for club feet. I helped with the surgery and realized, ‘This is it.’ And it still is. When I’m doing surgery, I lose track of time. I’m where I’m meant to be.”

Recently, Ortved treated Osada, a two-month-old Friesian with a left tibial fracture. “She was kicked by another horse,” says Daniel Lapp, owner of Red Crest Stables in Gordonville, Pa. “Our vet came to the farm to check her and asked if we’d want to pursue surgery, although she said it was a long shot.”

But a long shot is better than no shot. The referring vet sent Osada’s X-rays to Ortved for an opinion. “It was a really severe fracture that was complicated by a second fracture at the growth plate at the top of the bone,” Ortved says. “In foals we usually see one or the other but rarely both. I knew it would be a bit more challenging to repair.”

The doctor put Osada’s prognosis at 50 percent. “I said go for it,” recalls Lapp. The New Bolton Center surgical team prepped the horse. Dr. Dean Richardson, Charles W. Raker Professor of Equine Surgery, also scrubbed in. Osada was placed under general anesthesia, and two long, locking compression plates were carefully screwed into the bone in two places, a fracture repair approach for humans Richardson adopted for equines early in his career. After a lengthy, complex procedure, they closed the incision in several layers, covering it with a light bandage. “The thing we’re most worried about in these cases is the implant becoming infected and the repair staying together,” Ortved says.

A few days after the operation, Ortved’s fears came true. The wound opened and fluid leaked from horse’s leg. “We cleaned the incision and placed a wound VAC over it to help with drainage,” she says.

A bacterial culture found infection, so Ortved changed the horse’s antibiotics. When Osada’s comfort didn’t improve, Ortved took her back to the operating room to lavage the wound. “She had an infection in the joint,” Ortved says. “We flushed the joint and placed antibiotic-impregnated bone cement in the wound to help with healing.”

The treatment worked. The wound started to close, and Osada slowly improved. She was discharged a few weeks after her last procedure. “In the horse world, many people still think that fractures mean euthanasia,” Ortved says. “Over the past several decades, there have been so many advances in nursing care materials, anesthesia and surgical approaches that fractures don’t have to mean death. There are more options today.” Sacha Adorno

Visit willowdalesteeplechase.org, stroudcenter.org and vet.upenn.edu.

Related: Your Complete Guide to This Year’s Races in the Main Line Region