Fewer horses, bigger crowd at local steeplechase event

Posted: April 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

Matthew Hatcher riding Let’s Presume leads Woods Winants riding Whodoyoucallit in the Foxhunter Timber race Sunday afternoon at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point races held at Woodley Farm south of Berryville. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Spectators watch a flat race at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point races Sunday at Woodley Farm south of Berryville. The races had been postponed from March because of a snowtorm.
Jacob Roberts, riding Vladykov, leads a group of riders in the Woodley Cup race Sunday afternoon at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point races at Woodley Farm. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

BERRYVILLE — The month delay in the 64th running of the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point races may have affected the number of horses competing Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t affect the human turnout.

“The crowd is double what it usually is,” said event co-chairman Brian Ferrell. “We had lots of sponsors and more vendors than we expected.”

The event, which featured eight steeplechase-style races, was originally scheduled for March 9, but a snowfall caused the racing to be postponed.

The Sunday date left Blue Ridge competing for horses who ran in other nearby races, including the Middleburg Point-to-Point on Saturday.

But the extra spring sunshine gave the grass-covered, rolling course at Woodley Farm off U.S. 340 south of Berryville great footing for the racers who did come.

Alex Thomas of Middleburg rode in the sixth race, a non-jumping event for horses that had never won a flat race. He said Friday’s rain softened the footing just enough.

“We finished last,” he added in a soft Irish accent, but that was fine. His job had been to pilot the young mare around the mile and a furlong (220 yards) course safely.

“You don’t want them to be uncomfortable. You want them to have fun,” he said of the horses.

Thomas, who has been around horses all his life, said he wouldn’t want to do anything else. Racing a horse over fences brings a rush of adrenaline, he said.

“People on the flat track say we’re crazy.”

Ireland was well represented in the winner’s circle for the sixth race.

Clarke County trainer Jimmy Day, originally from Ireland, sent Our Emerald Forest to the post under jockey Jeff Murphy.

“We’re both from Ireland,” Murphy said of his mount. The chestnut gelding was bred by Day’s brother in the old country and imported to the United Sates, where he was bought by Magalen O. Bryant.

The horse will probably go to Pimlico for the flat racing, Murphy said, but he’ll have another jockey there.

“I’m too big,” said Murphy, who confines himself to point-to-point races and show jumping.

“It’s all I wanted since I was a little boy.”

Catherine Stimpson of Rosney Stables in Clarke County was presiding over an extensive tailgate repast while watching the type of races she used to ride in.

“Now, I’m enjoying the tailgate part of it,” although she still trains horses at Rosney Stables

Stable tricks work at tailgate parties, too, Stimpson discovered.

The breezy conditions imperiled a glass vase of spring daffodils on her table, so Stimpson circled the vase with bungee cords and tied them off to the truck’s sides.

“They’re cross-tied, just like you cross-tie a horse,” she explained.

The etiquette of tailgating, said Sue Rubal of Round Hill, is simple. The hostess, in this case Rubal herself, brings the tables “and a couple of main staples. Everybody you invite brings something to share.

“We love the races,” said Rubal, who has attended a number of Blue Ridge Point-to-Points. “We love to watch the horses.”

She invited Jim Jennings of Hume to his first Blue Ridge event.

Jennings said he went to the bank Saturday to get $50 in one dollar bills for a little friendly wagering among the group.

A recurring comment from all the spectators and participants was how beautiful the day turned out.

Said Stimpson, “We look forward to an afternoon of racing in good weather.”

But, even when the Point-to-Point is held in March, when the weather is usually less accommodating, “It’s a good way to get rid of cabin blues,” she said.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com