A History of Steeplechase
The sport gained traction in the Philadelphia region long ago.
The courses at Winterthur, Willowdale and Radnor Hunt each have a distinct personality. Winterthur is a good match 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.