Everything You Need to Know about Point-to-Point, Willowdale Steeplechase and Radnor Hunt Races
A history of the Brandywine Valley’s premier steeplechase events.
For more than 40 years, Delaware has celebrated its own version of the Kentucky Derby on the first weekend in May. In 1978, Greta “Greets” Layton, a Winterthur trustee, wanted to make the community more aware of the museum and garden, and trustee Julian Boyd suggested a steeplechase race. The idea was a perfect fit, as steeplechase racing was a well-loved sport in the area. Mrs. Layton launched the effort, drawing on knowledgeable local equestrians like Russell B. Jones, Jr. and Lewis “Paddy” Neilson III.
Today, Point-to-Point at Winterthur is known for its grand tailgate picnics, high-stepping carriage horses and stylish Rolls-Royces. But the first race, held on May 6, 1979, was a casual affair. In the early years, there were no cash prizes. The five races simply featured silver trophies modeled after early American silver in the Winterthur collection.
In 2006, the Delaware Legislature passed a law allowing Winterthur to pay monies to winning owners, and Point-to-Point became an officially sanctioned race under the governing body of the National Steeplechase Association. Today, the course is a challenging 1.5-mile, figure-eight course, run twice over 17 timber fences.
• The Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial, with a $20,000 purse. Last year’s winner: Rudyard/Armata Stable/William Dowling/Evan Dwan.
• The Winterthur Bowl, with a $41,000 purse. Last year’s winner: Kings Apollo/Stewart Strawbridge/Sanna Neilson/Gerard Galligan.
• The Vicmead Plate, with a $10,000 purse. Last year’s winner: Carrickboy/Morningstar Farm/Ricky Hendriks/Archie Macauley.• The Middletown Cup, with a $500 award for the owner and trainer. Last year’s winner: Canaveral/Gregory Hawkins/Janet Elliot/Eric Poretz.
One of Point-to-Point’s great traditions is the carriage parade. Begun in 1979 by George A. “Frolic” Weymouth and a number of his coaching friends, it is now the largest procession of antique horse-drawn carriages in the nation.
Point-to-Point has also grown as a family event, thanks to Canine Capers and the Stick-Pony Races. The tailgate competition is always a hotly contested and elaborate affair.
Preparations for Point-to-Point take place year-round and involve all museum departments. It’s truly a celebration of Winterthur history.
The Willowdale Steeplechase is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise funds for three important causes: Clean water, veterinary excellence, and services for children with special needs. The races are run to benefit the Stroud Water Research Center, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center and Quest Therapeutic Services.
Willowdale Steeplechase was founded in 1993 by Race Chairman W.B. Dixon Stroud Jr. Since then, the event has raised over $1 million for its beneficiaries.
Willowdale features top-level horses racing over jumps, elegant tailgating, high fashion, and—most importantly—a community coming together to support these three charities. The day includes a sidesaddle race over fences, an antique car display, pony races produced by U.S. Pony Racing, Jack Russell Terrier races, activities for children, local food vendors, and upscale boutique shopping.
The dedicated race course is irrigated and runs right-handed. The natural amphitheater of Willowdale’s spectator viewing area is unique to this part of the country and allows guests to watch the races as they would in the United Kingdom. Attendees enjoy tremendous excitement from all of the spectating areas.
Each reserved tailgating space offers panoramic views of the course, whether from high on the hill or right on the rail. Best of all, general admission ticket-holders can visit friends and watch the races from a variety of vantage points.
The feature race—The Willowdale Steeplechase Amateur Timber Stakes, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Rodman W. Moorhead III—is the fourth race of the day. Last year’s winner was Doc Cebu, a repeat winner from 2017. Doc Cebu is owned by Bruton Street U.S., is ridden by Hadden Frost, and is trained by Jack Fisher.
This year’s race-day purses total $105,000.
In addition to the steeplechase, Willowdale hosts fundraising events and activities throughout the year, including a course walk and Willowdale in White, the latter an elegant outdoor dinner party in a surprise location. Both occur in the days leading up to the races.
Run in memory of George Strawbridge Sr., the Radnor Hunt Cup is a 3.25-mile timber race for 4-year-olds and up. The purse for the race is $30,000, thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edward R. Owen Jr., Mr. George Strawbridge Jr. and Mr. and Mrs. William R. Wister.
The 2018 Radnor Hunt Cup winner, Top Man Michael (IRE), is owned by Irvin Naylor and trained by Cyril Murphy. Darren Nagle was the jockey. Naylor was presented with the Radnor Hunt Cup and a Challenge Cup in memory of John Strawbridge Jr. The race was presented by the Bellevue.
Run in memory of Mrs. William Coxe Wright, the National Hunt Cup is a 2.375- hurdle handicap race for 4-year-olds and up. The purse is $50,000, generously donated by Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Colket, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duprey, Mr. and Mrs. N. Peter Hamilton, Mr. and Mrs. S. Matthew V. Hamilton Jr. and Mr. and Mrs. David L. Hain. The 2018 National Hunt Cup winner, Surprising Soul, is owned by Wendy Hendriks and trained by Ricky Hendriks. Ross Geraghty was the jockey. Wendy Hendriks was presented with the Third National Hunt Cup. The race was presented by BNY MellonWealth Management.