Sunday's 74th running of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup was a major event for equestrians hoping for a share of the $35,000 purse or a win in one of the other races. It was also a fine day for spectators who don't mind cloudy skies when there is plenty of good food and drink in the tailgate picnics.Steeplechasing goes back to America's colonial days, and even then, people tailgated at the races. The drivers and passengers who took part in the parade of antique carriages that preceded the races parked their horses with a good view of the racecourse and set out their picnics to enjoy the scene.
Mike Gracie from Kirkwood has been driving his horses to the races for years, many times watching his son ride as an amateur jockey. "This is one of the finest autumn drives there is. We always have a wonderful day," Gracie said. "There's the camaraderie (of the carriage drivers) and everybody is receptive to what we do."
The spectators who came in modern vehicles were also out for fun with friends, although some had additional reasons to attend the Hunt Cup. Kim and Brendan Cross of West Chester and their friends, the Joyces and Bauernschmidts, came to the event in memory of Kim Cross' parents, who recently passed away.
"They had an equestrian life, and my wife rode. We came here last year with them," Brendan Cross said, explaining that his in-laws had decided after attending the hunt cup last year that they would get tickets for a closer view this time. "Unfortunately, they didn't make it. We'll do this every year."
Julie Bauernschmidt of Westtown was at the races for the first time. "These are all our best friends, and I enjoy a good day in Chester County," she said, adding that her family are members of the Brandywine Conservancy, one of the organizations that benefits from the proceeds of the Hunt Cup.
Representatives from the Brandywine Conservancy, the Brandywine Valley Association, the Cheshire Land Preservation Fund, the National Lands Trust and the Stroud Water Research Center were stationed inside a large tent where visitors could stop by between races and learn more about their organizations.
"There's a lot of complementary activities that go on between the groups," Brandywine Valley Association Executive Director Robert Struble said. "This hopefully gives the public a better understanding of what those groups do independently. We're getting interest from all ages. It's nice to see the younger folks coming here."
Back on the racecourse, Chester County was also well represented, with Unionville jockey Jody Petty winning the featured race on Augustin Stable's horse, Move West, for Cochranville trainer Sanna Hendriks.
Earlier in the day, Petty led the junior riders in the start of the Pennsylvania Pony Hunt Cup. Fourteen-year-old rider Lauren Attanasio, of Douglasville, was the first to cross the finish line on her pony, Captain. "I always knew he was a fast pony. I'm happy I won," she said.