Attention, computer geeks, technophiles and anyone who likes to watch a great horse race. This week our website (www.chronofhorse.com) features something from out of the attic that you’ll really enjoy. Thanks to the efforts of our website coordinator, Nicole Lever, and the National Steeplechase Museum in Camden, S.C., you can click on the logo near the top of the home page to see spectacular footage of the kind of steeplechase racing you just don’t see anymore. Because the lead article in this week’s Steeplechase Issue is about the legendary Elkridge (p. 8), we’re showing his victory in the 1950 Indian River Steeplechase from flag fall to finish line, including a race call by today’s best-known steeplechase announcer, Will O’Keefe.
Some of you, I’m afraid, won’t be able to see it, because you’ll need a high-speed internet connection. Standard dial-up connections probably won’t be fast enough to accept the feed. (So watch the race at work.)
I was absolutely transfixed when I saw this tape for the first time a month ago. That, I thought, was how steeplechasing should be. Not just horses galloping around a flat oval that happens to have four green lumps they can brush through. In those days Delaware Park, as Nicole describes in her article, had dozens of giant-sized live or stuffed hedges, fences that horses and riders really had to jump.
And when you watch this race, you’ll see that those horses and riders weren’t just cantering around and taking their own sweet time to measure those hedges and water jumps as they circumnavigated the infield and crossed back and forth across the track. They were flying down to them and leaping them right out of stride. Watching Elkridge and the great Dooley Adams in this race is like taking a lesson in the art of running and jumping. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Fifty or 60 years ago, Delaware Park wasn’t completely unusual. Every racetrack and racecourse had hedges of a similar size, and rolling terrain was almost always a factor at the hunt meets. But times have changed, and all but a few of those expansive, undulating racecourses are gone to be houses or malls. Gone too are natural hedges since more than three decades ago steeplechasing’s leaders brought in the plastic National fences to make it easier for people to card race meets. All that remains of races that put that premium on jumping is the big timber races (the Maryland Hunt Cup and the Maryland races that lead up to it, and the Virginia Gold Cup) and the four “steeplethon” races run at the Virginia Gold Cup, Middleburg (Va.) and Willowdale (Pa.).
Sure, speed is intoxicating, whether you’re watching a race or riding in it. But steeplechasing needs to have elements that truly set it apart from its flat racing cousin. It should continue to have the endurance factor that becomes dishearteningly less fashionable in flat racing (where many consider the 11