The Middleburg Spring Races are said to be the quintessential event in Virginia’s famous hunt — as in fox hunting — country. The image carries a whiff of American royalty: the Kennedys, et al., and the one-percenters.
But in truth, the races held in Glenwood Park on Saturday, April 20, on an unusually bright and sunny day, were simply an afternoon of family fun, with a lot of friendly people who love horses — especially those that jump — and good, locally grown farm-to-table food and wine.
The seven races started at 1 p.m. But Middleburgers and their guests started arriving at 11 a.m. to set up tables on the lush grass terraces alongside the finish line, decorated with flowers, candles and images of horses and foxes — and laden with food.
While some of the spectators wore imaginative hats (fascinators) of Ascot fame, most wore clothes of the more tweedy, hunt-look variety, with jackets, pants, skirts, boots and dark glasses. Many who were there owned and rode horses themselves. The trophies given out at the end of each race in the race tower paddock were handed to laughing family owners of all ages, from grandpas to great-grandchildren in spring dresses and jeans.
The racing course takes up acres of sloping grassy plains. Amazingly, every viewing area offers views of almost all of the dozens of brush jumps (some of the horses actually brushed through instead of jumped, since it’s speed not height that counts), timber fences, logs and water obstacles.
From the preparation paddock, the sleek horses for each race seemed eager to run, apparently enjoying it all as much as the crowds of admirers. In fact, in the final race, the Alfred M. Hunt Steeplechase, a long two and five-eighths miles over timbers, one eager horse — Dapper Dan, owned by Donna Rogers — lost his rider over one of the downhill jumps and continued running and jumping with the pack for another four jumps. Finally seeming to realize he was missing something, he galloped along the rail for a time before finding a gate and a handler. (The rider returned to the stable in a golf cart.)
The Middleburg spectators smiled knowingly. Saying it was “part of the day,” several told stories of their own spills and independent-minded mounts in fox hunts and point-to-point races.
Here are the winning horses and owners.
Special Relation (IRE), owned by Bruton Street, won the $35,000 Glenwood Hurdle; Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’Amu (FR) won the $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup; Bruton Street’s Muscato (GB) won the $75,000-prize Temple Gwathmey (Grade II) Hurdle Handicap; KMSN Stable’s Sportswear (GB) won the $30,000 Virginia Equine Alliance Maiden Hurdle; Sharon Sheppard’s Moorland (IRE) won the $20,000 Sonabank Cup; Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime (FR) won the DBM Wealth Management Training Flat Race; and Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.’s Days of Heaven from the local area won the $20,000 Alfred M Hunt Steeplechase.