Willowdale Steeplechase features racing and merriment

Poor forecasts, early fog don’t dampen 19th annual event

By Eddy K. Foster, Staff Writer, UnionvilleTimes.com

Brands Hatch, with Jeff Murphy up, pulls ahead of Fieldview, ridden by Darren Nagle, in the Landhope Cup, Sunday, during the Willowdale Steeplechase.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Horses, partying, and Jack Russell Terriers marked the 19th annual running of the Willowdale Steeplechase Sunday. Billed as a full day of family-friendly activities, this year’s races did not disappoint. Buoyed by a strong turnout, the event featured 10 horse races and an additional six dog races. South Monarch, the horse ridden by jockey Chip Miller, took home the big $15,000 prize for winning the main event.

Typically held on Mothers’ Day, this year’s Willowdale was held a week after thanks to a quirk in the calendar that had Mothers Day earlier than typical. Next year, the event returns to the holiday and will be held on May 13. Although some observers suggested turnout might have been down a bit, early threatening weather and poor forecasts may have been more a factor. And weather, although muggy, ended up being fairly nice and sunny for much of the day, after last year’s somewhat blustery weather.

People came from all over the east coast to attend the races. Vehicles from as far away as Vermont could be seen pulling into the tailgating area. Fred Smith of Chestertown, MD makes a yearly trip to Chester County to see the event. “We used to live in the area, but even though we moved away it is our tradition to come back every year. It is just such a fun, laid back event that it is hard to pass up,” Smith said.

The Steeplechase grounds also featured an antique car display, which included a veritable history of automobiles in America. There was also a variety of activities for children, including pony petting and a tent by the Stroud Water Research Center featuring information on healthy streams.

Early fog and damp weather may have kept down some attendance, but by midafternoon, bright sunshine and a busy tailgating area meant yet another busy Willowdale Steeplechase.

Children were also given materials to make “Stick Ponies” made out of a pole and a painted sock. Amy, 7, exclaimed, “It’s not as fun as the real thing, but maybe I’ll have a real pony when I’m older.” Her mother rolled her eyes.

The social atmosphere is always a big part of the Steeplechase, and this year way no exception. Four tailgating areas were provided for people to pull up their cars and picnic in the field. Among the revelers was Bradley Hendrix, who hosted a tailgating party of about 50 people. “I’m hosting this gathering in honor of my friend Gilbert Scheck, who hosted this tailgate every year at the Steeplechase since its founding. He passed away two years ago, and I’ve been keeping the tradition alive ever since,” Hendrix said.

The annual display of classic cars was even bigger this year than in previous years — and got a new location near the Turn tailgating area.

“I even have his old 1972 Ford F-250 here, which he used to tailgate for 17 years. We all come here to support the ponies, and the various organizations that keep horse racing and breeding alive in Chester County.”

The Willowdale Steeplechase benefits Quest Therapeutic Services, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine at New Bolton, and the Stroud Water Research Center.

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