73rd running of Brandywine Hills Point To Point, April 5


Spectators at the 2014 Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point enjoy getting up close to the action. Photo by Martha Fuller.

POCOPSON — The Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point, which coincides with Easter this year, has been a favorite springtime outing for many local families and racing fans in Chester County for years and in some cases, even generations. Emphasizing its family friendliness, in addition to the exciting horse races, the event includes games and entertainment for children and adults of all ages, plus this year, even the Easter bunny!

The picturesque grounds of the Myrick Conservation Center, located approximately six miles west of West Chester and three miles east of Unionville, provide a perfect setting. The grounds, which consist of 318-acres of rolling countryside, are ideally suited for the challenging three-mile course of timber fences that can be easily viewed by spectators. Plus, it affords plenty of room for parking, tailgating, and children’s games.

While steeplechase races in the area have become very popular, it is interesting to look at the history of this type of horse racing. Fortunately, in honor of the 50th running of the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point in 1992, George Osborne researched and compiled a history of the races.

The first race came about as a challenge at a dinner party at which the guests were all members of one of two local foxhunts — the Brandywine Hounds or West Chester Hunt. One of the gentlemen claimed that he had the best foxhunting horse and of course, others disagreed believing their own mount to be superior. It was agreed that a point-to-point race across open hunting country would determine the best horse. The name point-to-point derived from the fact that the riders had to round several “points”along their route. Steeplechase racing, which gavebirth to point-to-point racing, began in 18th century Ireland when the route of cross country horse races was from church steeple to church steeple.

That first race, which took place on Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, 1939, and thus was named the Lincoln’s Birthday Point-to-Point, started and finished at Joe C. Murtagh’s Goat Glen Farm, which was located across the street from what is now West Chester University’s South Campus.

The other points, making it an approximately 6-mile race, were not disclosed to the riders until the day of the race. Six riders took the challenge that day and at the party following the race, which was won by Joe Murtagh, an official race committee was established. A date in late March was selected for the following year and the race was renamed the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point.

Through Osborne’s research, as well as an amazing scrapbook compiled by Josie Oas Parman, one can follow the race’s history, its format and location changes, and the families that have had ties to this race from the beginning. Oas herself is a prime example. Her uncle, Dan Cornwell, competed in the very first challenge race in 1939, finishing second. Her father, Jack Cornwell, won the race in 1942. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, her first husband, Frank Oas, served as chairman of the racing committee and was a keen competitor in the races. Parman herself bested 17 horses and riders to win the old fashion race in 1959.

The Meister family is another with a long Brandywine Hills history. Carl J. “Bunny” Meister, the current chairman of the point-to-point, claimed several victories decades ago. Plus, a photo shows Bunny’s first wife, Betty Baldwin, holding several silver trophies she won at the races in 1954. Some years later, the couple’s sons, Billy and Jay, who both went on to be renowned steeplechase jockeys, got their start in the pony races at Brandywine Hills. In 2013, Jay’s daughter, Emma, continued the legacy with her win in the large pony race.

The gates at the Myrick Center, 1760 Unionville-Wawaset Rd. (Rt. 842) open at 10 a.m., with the first race going off at 11:30 a.m. The children start with leadline and pony races, followed by four timber races contested by many of the top jockeys and their mounts.

Radnor Hunt will mark its seventh year as presenting sponsor of the races. Joining them as sponsors are Ameriprise Financial, J. Gallagher Septic & Wastewater Control, The Herr Family, The Whip Tavern, Bob & Hannah Spatola/Handicrafters, Susquehanna Bank and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Race sponsors include The Hickman Family, Rosie Napravnik, Hickory House Catering, James A. Cochrane, Inc., Capital & Security Management, Inc., The Elser Family, Clifton Edgar, Deborah Robinson, Rafael & TJ Costa, and Gross Realty Group.

Admission is by the carload, ranging from just $20 to $150 for premium spots. Sponsorships are available starting at just $300. See www.brandywinewatershed.org or call 610-793-1090 for more information or to purchase parking passes and/or raffle tickets in advance.

Proceeds from the annual Brandywine Valley Point-to-Point races go to the Brandywine Valley Association (BVA) to help them fulfill their mission of promoting and preserving the natural resources of the Brandywine Valley. Over the past decade, the popular race day has raised over $200,000 for the BVA and its programs.

For more than 60 years, the BVA has pioneered innovative programs to improve and protect the water in the Brandywine Valley. Your leader in local watershed conservation and education, BVA reaches over 12,000 school students per year and offers programs for all ages to promote the restoration, preservation, conservation and enjoyment of our region’s natural resources.

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