Photography By Jim Graham

Feature

Remembering Steeplechase Icon Louis “Paddy” Neilson III

By Hobart Rowland |

Louis “Paddy” Neilson III rode his first race at 14. A year later, he won Maryland’s Grand National Steeplechase. Ultimately, though, Neilson—who passed away on Sept. 5, 2019, at the age of 77—was a man defined by his myriad interests. A revered jockey, horse owner and trainer, he also had many other passions, including North Atlantic salmon fishing, Civil War history and the rock band Coldplay. 

Born in Glen Cove, N.Y., Neilson graduated from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Even as a broker for Alex. Brown & Sons in Philadelphia, he never set aside his love of foxhunting and racing. He rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup 21 times, winning it three times in three decades. For 10 years, he was the leading amateur steeplechase jockey in North America. 

After the stock market crash of 1987, Neilson joined his wife, Toinette, as a full-time trainer at their Rockaway Farm in Chatham, Pa. He chaired the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races for 17 years and the Plumsted Farm Races for 11. He was also chairman of London Grove Township’s Open Space Committee and its Parks and Recreation Committee. 

 

Related: For the Neilson Family, Steeplechase is a Way of Life

 

A passionate foxhunter, Neilson hunted with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds since childhood. Serving as full-time honorary whipper-in for the last 13 years, he jumped his last fence just weeks before his death. He also served as master of foxhounds alongside his daughter, Sanna, and he chaired Cheshire’s most successful Point-to-Point Races in 2019. 

“Most of my memories of Paddy center around timber racing,” says longtime friend Don Cochran. “I rode over timber for eight years, with Paddy as my trainer. I’ll never forget my first race at his beloved Plumsted Farm—the Marshall Jenny Memorial Heavyweight Race. We were in the paddock waiting for the riders-up call, when he said to me sternly, ‘This is my race. Marshall Jenny was my friend, and I want to win. So get out front and stay there!’ Then he gives me a leg up and says, ‘Have fun.’ 

“I’m on a young, fairly green horse and had no idea what to expect, but I knew I was less afraid of that than facing him back in the paddock without the win. So I went out front and stayed there. In the paddock, there he was, grinning ear to ear, offering his famous, ‘Attaboy, well done.’” 

The Hunt Winter 2019  Issue

This article was published in Feature from the Winter 2019 issue.
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