There is an unfortunate pall over the sport of steeplechasing as riders, trainers and fans look forward to the 75th running of the International Gold Cup, a major timber race, on Oct. 20. There have been a spate of falls at recent race meetings in New York, Maryland, and, most recently, at the Middleburg Fall Races last weekend.
Several horses have not survived, and jockey Carl Rafter was seriously injured when his mount went down in Middleburg on Saturday.
For those who follow and love the sport, the accidents not only underscore a fact that they already knew – that this is a dangerous endeavor -- but also that, because such accidents have become so relatively rare, they serve to highlight the fact that the people who participate are immensely talented, and that the horses with which they partner are superb athletes, that they are meticulously cared for and conditioned, and that their excellence raises sport to art.
Too often, animal rights groups of one kind or another try to use these falls to condemn an activity that is so endemic to the northern Piedmont. They forget that this is what the animals have been bred to do, that they run not only for gain and glory, but also to help raise money for worthy causes, and that every element of their daily care and training is planned to the nth degree for their health and well being.
It is true that we have seen enough recent bad luck to last us a good while; certainly, the tide will have turned when the horses are called to post at Great Meadow on Saturday, Oct. 20.
The International Gold Cup races support Great Meadow Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the preservation of Great Meadow's open space for community access. That access is vast, and growing.
We look forward to seeing you there. We look forward to great racing unmarred by accident.