Rappahannock Hunt Point-to-point kicked off the season on March 6 with a fun day of racing in a gorgeous setting with fantastic weather. Although timber entries were light, the first three races on the card showcased US Pony Racing— talk about a crowd-pleaser! These juniors not only looked and acted like professionals, they rode to win like their adult counterparts.
This major display of competent cuteness delighted spectators from the moment the diminutive jockeys and small ponies appeared in the paddock for the first race. Once mounted on their steeds, they filed behind outrider Melvin Johnson, who led the field of six to the start and followed discreetly when the flag dropped.
Ponies went flying up the course. The crowd of more than 2500 roared their approval as the pint-sized racehorses and young pilots put to the test what they have learned in the US Pony Racing program, founded in 2013 by racehorse trainer Regina Welsh.
“I had a horse running in the open flat and I saw entries were very light, so I called Oliver Brown (MFH-Rappahannock Hunt),” Welsh recalled. “I said if he wanted to beef up his card, I can probably drum up some interest in Pony Racing. Oliver has promised me that pony races will be a fixture from now on, on the Rappahannock race card. I’m really excited about the number of kids in Virginia who are getting interested in Pony Racing.”
Of the 16 ponies entered in the three divisions, Betty McCue, who works with kids in USPA when she isn’t busy teaching riding and racing at her EHM Stable in Maryland, brought two small ponies, two mediums, and all six large ponies. Small winner was Will Slater aboard his own Chewy. Medium saw Charleston (EHM Stables) and Yomar Ortiz Jr lead the whole way. Goose (EHM Stable) and Carly Kern won the large division by a huge margin.
Open timber started two. Fletched, ridden by Elizabeth Scully, allowed Bet The Pot and Graham Watters to set the pace until close to home before a successful challenge to win by a head. The Foxhunter timber saw Boyfriend Brian (IRE) take off in spite of Will Driscoll’s efforts to rate him, establishing a huge lead that carried them to the finish line seven lengths in front of What A Charmer and Sam Cockburn.
Flat races: William Russell’s Animal Kingston, ridden by Watters, trained by Morris, won Open Flat by four lengths. In the Maiden Flat, Diva of Seville, piloted by Scully, broke loose from the field of four to win by a half-length.
US Pony Races will run on Sunday, April 14, at Loudoun Point-to-point at Morven Park in Leesburg. All aspiring junior jockeys must attend a sponsored clinic and be approved before they can compete in USPR-hosted races. Kids don’t have to own a pony and USPR has great ponies available to participants.
On March 19, the forecast looked like rain, but the luck of the Irish blessed Warrenton Hunt Point-to-point with weather that went from cool and breezy to warm and spring-like at the Airlie course. Spectators were in good spirits, enjoying the action and socializing.
The most exciting finish of the day took place in the in the sixth race when Ladies Sidesaddle started four horses whose riders are members of the Side Saddle Chase Foundation. At the end of the 9-furlong race (8=one mile), Soul Approval with Devon Zebrovious and Nova with Julie Nafe locked into a stretch duel that had the crowd cheering. Judges tried but couldn’t separate the horses at the wire and declared the race a dead heat. Anyone who thinks sidesaddle is for sissies hasn’t seen these “ladies” race or ride to hounds, running and jumping in first flight.
Maryland-based trainer Mark Beecher saddled Open Hurdle winner Decisive Triumph, ridden by Jamie Bargary, to prevail by two lengths over Knockholt, Parker Hendriks in the irons. Hero’s Return provided Beecher with a six-length victory in the second division of Maiden Hurdle.
Keri Brion, trainer of Eclipse Steeplechase champion, The Mean Queen, boosted entries with new Irish runners, winning two of three Maiden Hurdle divisions with Parish Delight (IRE) Hendriks up, and Undercover Rowdy (IRE) with Brian Foley. Historic Heart (IRE) and Hendricks won Novice Rider Flat.
Open Timber started two, and it was a very good race with Flaming Sword (IRE), piloted by McLane Hendrik and trained by Richard Valentine, setting the pace. Paddy’s Crown and Barry Foley stayed close, earning the win by one-half length after a rousing good battle to the finish. Five started in Novice Timber with Beverly R. Steinman’s Be Somebody, ridden by Brian Cullinane, making a successful move to win by four lengths for trainer Doug Fout.
Congratulations and great appreciation to Douglas Lees, honored by Warrenton Hunt with a full-page dedication in the program for his lifetime of support and decades of beautiful and award-winning sporting photographs of hunting and racing. He is the progeny of Harcourt Lees, former MFH Warrenton Hunt and MBH Ashland Bassetts, and Eleanor (Scotty) Lees, who encouraged him to pursue equine sports and photography. Lees has won two Eclipse Awards for his photos. He is that good!
The ‘chasing season continues with Piedmont Foxhounds Point-to-point March 26; Old Dominion April 9; Blue Ridge April 17; Middleburg Spring Races April 23 at Glenwood Park: Loudoun Sunday, April 24, at Morven Park; Middleburg Hunt Sunday, May 1, at Glenwood Park; Virginia Gold Cup May 7, at Great Meadow.
Remember that spring often means odd weather, so be prepared for everything! Wet, dry, hot, cold, blustery – lots of layers are best with appropriate waterproof footwear.
Junior riders, who did not turn 16 as of January 1st this year, are eligible for US Pony Racing. You don’t need your own pony. You must be able to control your mount in company and make your way to the start of a race on your own. Contact USPR about attending a clinic, required before you can enter pony races. It’s an experience like nothing else—such a blast!—and participants make memories that last their lifetime.
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