The Rides of March
Steeplechase season kicks off in the greater Brandywine Valley—and I couldn’t be more ready.
My front door has been locked for a while. It’s just been too cold to open it. With March fading into April, the door is cracking open, once more—and, with it, my sense of adventure.
Just as spring debuts, so arrives racing in Unionville. Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds call it a season the day after their Point-to-Point races on the Averell Penn Smith Walker Memorial course at the Plantation Field.
This Point-to-Point marks its 71st running, but the sport is far older than that. After riding all winter, their horses fit and spirited, foxhunters had long been challenging one another to prove the superiority of their steeds. The first steeplechase is said to have been the result of a 1752 wager between Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake. The two raced four miles cross-country between Buttevant and St. Leger churches in Doneraile, Cork, Ireland—steeple to steeple. En route, they jumped fences and ditches, while traversing countryside obstacles.
The first recorded steeplechase over a prepared track with fences was run at Bedford in 1810. The races have continued ever since, gaining popularity around the globe. In this region, the season starts with Cheshire, Brandywine Hills and Fair Hill, followed by Winterthur Point-to-Point, Willowdale Steeplechase and the Radnor Hunt Races. Capping the season is the prestigious Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in Kennett Square.
Each race has it’s own character, it’s own course and, most importantly, it’s own beneficiary. Each also has its own sense of community, bringing together friends, families and neighbors. Time seems to slip backwards and tailgates abound, occasionally overshadowing the races.
I’ve attended these races for more than 30 years, and they’ve truly been a gift. Having the opportunity to take photographs is a rare and unequaled experience—one that I don’t take for granted. I also treasure working with the committees dedicated to impacting the community I call home. As March sheds its shadow, I know that I will soon be off to the country, where I’ll feel the ground shake from the thunder of hooves, hear the sound of popping corks and persistent laughter, and bask in the first true warmth of spring.