Steeplechasing in Virginia is finally back on track after the Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point, March 24 in Upperville.
Virginia’s season should have started on Feb. 24, with the Casanova Hunt Point-To-Point, but since a nearby farm was quarantined due to equine herpes (EHV-1), state veterinarian Richard Wilkes cancelled the meet the day before. Several farms in the area were quarantined, including the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, where the virus originated.
With only 24-hour cancellation notice, Casanova staff estimated they lost $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue. Not wanting to take any chances on also being eliminated, officials for the next two meets voluntarily cancelled the Rappahannock Hunt Point-To-Point (March 3) and the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-To-Point (March 10) rather than spending money on programs, which can cost $5,000 to $10,000.
But just when it looked like Virginia was free of EHV-1 and could resume ’chasing with the Warrenton Hunt Point-To-Point (March 17), Mother Nature stepped in and dumped 3 to 5 inches of snow and ice, causing officials to move the meet from Saturday to Sunday. But a second glance at the frozen course on Saturday and a call to the tri-state area trainers forced officials to cancel the meet for lack of participation.
Warrenton Race Chairman Dr. Al Griffin estimated the loss at $15,000 to $18,000, but he said there has been a silver lining.
“We have gotten very few re-imbursement requests,” Griffin said. “I am floored. People are actually donating the money to the hunt. It is so touching.”
Griffin said there are no plans to reschedule the meet. “There are really no dates in the calendar that don’t fall on another meet’s weekend,” Griffin said. “We don’t want to dilute another meet by squeezing in somewhere. It’s not fair to them. We got bad weather, and it’s the nature of the game. Next year it will probably be 70 degrees and hot.”
Central Entry director Will O’Keefe, who coordinates race entries for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania hunt meets, was not happy about having to inform the participants.
“The financial impact is tremendous,” O’Keefe said. “Obviously there already has been a negative effect, especially on Casanova. Luckily, Orange County (April 1) is allowing Rappahannock and Blue Ridge to share their weekend. The joint point-to-point will be held at Blue Ridge on March 31. Hopefully the remaining point-to-points and sanctioned season will go on as planned.”
The rainy, foggy day at Piedmont did not deter race-goers or trainers. The seven-race card filled nicely, although a few riders seemed to be a little rusty when it came to staying on course.
Maryland trainer Ann Stewart and Pennsylvania trainer Sanna Neilson Hendriks decided not to run at Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds Point-To-Point (Md.) despite the $12,000 purse on the open timber and brought several of their timber prospects for a run in the maiden timber, open timber and the flat races at Piedmont.
The nine-horse maiden timber field broke into three distinct groups during the 3 miles. The first group of five crossed the finish with Augustin Stable’s Radio Flyer (Stewart Strawbridge) ahead of the pack for Hendriks.
About a quarter mile back Augustin Stable’s Irish Prince (Paddy Young) and Brigadoon Stable’s Erin Go Bragh (Colvin “Gregg” Ryan) galloped to the wire with similar authority. It soon became evident with a claim of foul that the first five horses were all off course. After talking to the patrol judges, Young and Ryan were placed first and second with Alfred Smith Jr.’s two entries Fergie Storm (Catherine Stimpson) and Crypto Cousin (Patrick Cooney) third and fourth respectively.
Young said he and Ryan were so far back they let their horses just school along until the last three fences.
“There was a horse on my right side that put me and Gregg on the inside of the beacon,” Young said. “So we had to stop. He said they were all off course so we just circled back.”
He added, “I don’t know much about Irish Prince, but he jumped well and I still had plenty of horse left. It really has been a long, cold winter. It’s great to be back racing again.”
Back From Vacation
Kinross Farm’s Miles Ahead hasn’t raced since the Virginia Gold Cup last May, but the extended vacation did not stop him from dispatching his competition easily in the Rokeby Challenge Bowl open timber.
Ridden by Chris Read, the 10-year-old gelding stayed out in front just behind last year’s winner Apache
Twist (Loring Heard) until they fell at the stonewall, then Read paired up with Iron County Xmas (Jeff Murphy) and Seeking Seattle (Strawbridge).
At the last fence, Miles Ahead found another gear and sped up the hill to win by 3⁄4 of a length over Iron County Xmas and Seeking Seattle.
Trained by Neil Morris, Miles Ahead is heading for the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, May 5, with a stop at the Middleburg Spring Races (Va.) on April 21. Morris said their training wasn’t really interrupted by the virus outbreak or the bad weather.
“I would say it stopped us in that we were confined to campus,” Morris said. “We have a gym, a training track and an indoor arena for the horses. We were perfectly contained and able to continue training. We
just did not go anywhere and asked people not to ride on the property.”
Before the outbreak cancelled area hunts, Miles Ahead hunted with Piedmont and Orange County. “He’s a very easy horse to ride,” Morris said. “You just stay out of his way, leave him alone.”
Heard was taken to the hospital but was back home that evening, bruised but not seriously hurt after his mishap.
Jim Whitner’s 11-year-old gelding Bien Allure seems to have gotten his second wind. The horse never really fired in 2006 and was a tired eighth place in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup’s highweight timber last November. But he was a completely different mount in the Piedmont’s owner-rider timber.
Trained by former jockey Simon Hobson, Bien Allure paired up with frontrunner Michele Marieschi and his new owner George Hundt Jr. Hobson told Whitner the former stakes hurdler would be the one to beat. The two horses roared to the wire with Bien Allure just a nose ahead of Michele Marieschi.
“We were just a little bit worried if he was going to be fit enough, if we had been able to do enough work to get him here,” Hobson. “Jim rode a fantastic race and absolutely perfectly. We had stopped hunting in the
middle of December and have been training on a six furlong flat track because of the outbreak and weather, but you just don’t know if they are ready until you race.”
Sarah L. Greenhalgh