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Steeplechasing, Past and Present

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The courses at Winterthur, Willowdale and Radnor Hunt each have a distinct personality. Winterthur is a goodmatch for horses that take to timbers, or wooden-rail fences. Willowdale has its celebrated water jump. And a few years ago, Radnor Hunt changed from a traditional left-handed course to a right-handed course, which created a longer homestretch and a hilly course that challenges trainers and riders to conserve horses’ energy.

Steeplechase aficionados reserve weekends in May for the three big meets. Fans of Willowdale have come to know its races as a Mother’s Day tradition. Point-to-Point at Winterthur is always the Sunday after the Kentucky Derby, which is held the first Saturday in May. Radnor Hunt runs the same day as the Preakness, the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

But the meets are not solely for the horsey type. Picture throngs of people, all dressed up and eating, drinking and talking at a big open-air party. It’s a spectacle that welcomes attendees close to the fences, to hear the hooves pound and see the horses jump.

Like thoroughbreds, the weather can be unpredictable. On soft, summery days, expect women in floating frocks and elaborate hats. In a deluge, race aficionados reach for their Wellies and slickers.

Rain or shine, the races go on.

Record Purses on Tap for Spring 2017 Steeplechase Season

The 2017 National Steeplechase Association season kicked off Saturday, March 25, with the 51st annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase, and jump racing is looking forward to record purses in an expanded spring schedule.

The 2017 spring schedule offers purses of nearly $2.6 million, a 6.7 percent increase over purses paid in 2016’s record-breaking spring season. “We are very excited about the upcoming season,” says NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. “With substantial increases in purses, our race meets are contributing significantly to the growth of jump racing.”

The Steeplechase of Charleston at Stono Ferry joins the spring schedule on Saturday, April 8, taking the spot formerly occupied by the Stoneybrook Steeplechase. The Charleston races, managed by the Bruno Event Team of Birmingham, Ala., will offer purses of $90,000. Bruno also will manage a fall meet at Charleston.

The Tryon Block House Races will move its location and date, to be run on April 15 at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Columbus, N.C. Projected purses are $150,000, more than double the $72,950 paid in 2016. Topping the schedule at the expansive new course is the $40,000 Block House handicap hurdle.

The Iroquois Steeplechase on May 13 again will be the spring’s richest race meet, with a record purses of $525,000, a 15 percent increase over 2016. The Nashville meet features the spring’s richest race, the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). The testing three-mile race drew international attention and competitors last year. Rawnaq prevailed in a heart-pounding victory over two top-class Irish challengers and went on to win the 2016 Eclipse Award.

Iroquois is increasing the value of its Marcellus Frost novice stakes to $100,000, a 33 percent increase from 2016’s $75,000. Iroquois also offers the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares.

In all, novice stakes will offer $250,000 in purses. Also on the schedule is the $75,000 Carolina Cup Steeplechase on April 1 and the $75,000 Queen’s Cup MPC Chase on April 29.

The Virginia Gold Cup, a festival of racing on the first Saturday in May, and the Maryland Hunt Cup a week earlier will again offer the richest purses in
timber racing at $100,000. The Gold Cup on May 6 offers the season’s second-highest purses at $425,000.

In our area, purses total $55,000 at Winterthur Point-to-Point on May 7. May 14’s Willowdale Steeplechase features the $100,000 Steeplechase Challenge and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. The $50,000 National Hunt Cup is the headliner at the Radnor Hunt Races on May 20.

Reprinted with permission from the National Steeplechase Association.

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