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Changes dot 2013 Virginia steeplechase calendar

Saturday, Mar. 2 | By Betsy Burke Parker
Jordan, with Erin Swoope in the irons, right, won last year's Field Masters 'Chase for junior riders at the Orange County Point-to-Point. Photo by Douglas Lees
Change is in the air this spring, with the loss of two Virginia circuit point-to-points, yet an all-new event, a newly-merged hunt sponsor plus a new race host, all join the line-up to boost it back up to the usual crowded calendar.

The 2013 Virginia steeplechase season offers eight point-to-points, four races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, 10 hunter paces and one “fun day” of racing and activities.

The circuit spans a full 10 weeks, running nearly nonstop from the March 2 Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds Point-to-Point through the venerable Virginia Gold Cup May 4. The Casanova Hunt hunter pace Feb. 24 was conducted prior to press time.

With the defection of the Casanova Hunt Point-to-Point in 2011, the busy calendar had an opening, an early-season hole plugged last spring by the merged Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds, which jump back in this year with a March 2 meet in Sperryville.

Thornton Hill offered a fall point-to-point eight years, but light entries and dry fall conditions drove race officials to seek the more viable spring date. Rappahannock Hunt previously offered an early spring meet at hosting Thornton Hill Farm until a club split ended the event in 1999.

Lost from the schedule are the Bull Run Hunt Point-to-Point and the Fairfax Hunt Point-to-Point. Bull Run will continue with what it’s calling a “fun day” of casual racing and activities for hunt members which will not run as part of the official point-to-point circuit.

Fairfax defected when its hosting Morven Park discontinued steeplechase racing at the Leesburg venue.

Yet, with a new merger of the Loudoun Hunt West and Fairfax Hunt clubs, Fairfax members will collaborate with Loudoun West and Loudoun Hunt members to run the Loudoun races April 14 at Oatlands.

The complete point-to-point schedule includes Thornton Hill Fort Valley March 2; Blue Ridge March 9; Warrenton March 16; Piedmont March 23; Orange County March 31; Old Dominion April 6; Loudoun April 14; and Middleburg April 28.

In addition to the Virginia point-to-point circuit, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania have spring meets.

Condition book changes

To expand opportunity – and entries – point-to-point officials made a few pertinent changes to t
the condition book.

The Seven Corners timber series, formerly limited to owner-riders, has been opened to amateur riders. An amateur is defined as a person who has not been paid as a professional rider since 2008, and one whose primary income is not derived from training or riding racehorses.

Horses and riders in the series must have hunted six or more times in the current season.

A new type of flat race, the restricted young adult series, has been created for riders 15-18. Races are carded at Orange County and Old Dominion, though others may be added when trainer interest is gauged.

Sanctioned action

Another change – call it a rebirth – is the addition of the new Dogwood Classic at Colonial Downs in April.

The meet, organized by a private group and hosted at Virginia's only pari-mutuel racetrack, takes the place of the long-running Strawberry Hill Races. Sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, the Dogwood races kick off the NSA season in Virginia and feature $70,000 in purses.

Colonial Downs will also host two 'chases – including the $50,000 Ferguson Handicap that opens the big summer stakes season – on June 8. That's Colonial's opening day, with the meet running June 8-July 13.

Virginia's NSA season includes Dogwood April 6; Middleburg Spring April 20; Foxfield April 27; and Gold Cup May 4.

NSA action kicks off with a new meet in Charleston March 17, followed by Aiken March 23; Carolina Cup March 30; Stoneybrook April 6; Atlanta and My Lady's Manor April 13; Tryon and Grand National April 20; Maryland Hunt Cup and Queen's Cup April 27; Winterthur May 5; Iroquois May 11; Willowdale May 12; Radnor May 18 and Fair Hill May 25.

Treasure trove

Prizes offered on the point-to-point circuit include the coveted Hurdle Horse of the Year and Timber Horse of the Year, in addition to series awards for the Seven Corners, foxhunters' timber, ladies' timber, novice rider, amateur hurdle, novice timber, race mare and junior field masters' 'chase.

The Good Hands and Heels Award rewards novice riders for style and skill. The Grooms Award recognizes behind-the-scenes help.

Point-to-point, hunter pace and steeplechase conditions and calendars are posted online at www.CentralEntryOffice.com.
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