By MARCELLA PEYRE-FERRY
For 21st-century media
POCOPSON -- After such a long cold winter, a beautiful Sunday drew people out of their houses to enjoy the countryside and a day of racing at the Brandywine Valley Association’s Myrick Conservation Center. This was the 72nd running of the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point races.
“Point-to-point and steeplechase racing started with fox hunters who had a friendly bet to see who had the fastest horse. When you look at this part of Chester County, fox hunting is what shaped this country. Hunters were our first conservationists and are the ones that keep giving back to organizations like the Brandywine Valley Association,” BVA Executive Director Jim Jordan said. “The fox hunters and the horse people understand how important conservation is and the importance open space and clean water means to the residents here.
With so many years of tradition, the point to point races see spectators coming back year after year to enjoy the action. Shirley Hickman reserves a place by the finish line each year where she sets out tailgate food and drink, complete with pussy willows and a fox decorating her vehicle. She even sets out a basket of apples for anyone who wants a snack or a treat to take back to their horse.
“We’ve been tailgating like this forever and ever,” said Hickman who has been around horses all her life. “This is a glorious day and a wonderful venue. Everybody knows everybody,”
The point-to-point races spotlight the BVA and open space preservation, but the races are also a fun community event for the entire family. In addition to exciting racing over fences, there were pony races for young jockeys, and stick pony races for horseless youngsters.
“The real ponies you have to feed,” smiled Ralph Darmo, as daughters Alley and Gianna Marie got ready to race stick horses. The Darmo family are relatively new to attended the races, but they plan to kept coming back. “We love supporting the Brandywine Valley Authority. We’ve only been here two years but we won’t miss it.”
It takes a staff of volunteers to make the races possible, and they could be found all over the grounds, working at a wide range of tasks. BVA Assistant Business Manager Elaine Anderson was working at the volunteer’s desk. “i get to meet everybody, i get to know exactly the ins and outs of whats going on here, and it helps me get to know the ins and outs of point to point racing,” she said. “One of the strengths of the Brandywine Valley Association is the hours people dedicate to our events throughout the year. We promote the love of the outdoors and all types of activities around land conservation, so what better than something with horses and dogs?”
Volunteer Florence Williams dressed in civil war era attire to help set the mood for the day. “It’s a very old sport and i thought it would add a little more atmosphere,” she said, noting that hunting and racing have always been a part of local history. “This has such a big tradition of fox hunting.
On the racing side of the day, jockey James Slater was the big winner, riding in four of the day’s five timber races and winning all four times. Slater was the winning rider on Irvin S. Naylor’s Prince Ludovic in the heavyweight race to start his streak, then won both divisions on the Novice race, first on Classy Rascal, owned by Kenneth Garcia, and then on another of Irvin’s horses, Here Comes Badness. He finished out the day with a win on a third Naylor horse, Almarmooq, in the Open Timber race.
The remaining timber race winner was Just Barely, owned by William Meister, in the Foxhunter’s Race. Young riders also had their chance to race without fences. The Small Pony Race winner was Maggie Buchannan on Creamsicle, while Skyler McKenna won the Medium Pony Race on Fionna, and John Brophy won the Large Pony race on Modernly Millie. The leadline pony race for riders under seven years of age was won by Anne Barr on Glenhaven Echo.