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First stop, Sperryville

Friday, Mar. 1 | By Betsy Burke Parker
The open spaces of Thornton Hill Farm serve as backdrop for this Saturday’s point-to-point races in Sperryville, the opening meet on the busy spring, 2013 Virginia Steeplechase Association schedule. Photo by Betsy Burke Parker
It'll be clash of the champions Saturday to open the Virginia steeplechase circuit.

Six divisional champs butt heads at the Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds Point-to-Point March 2, with nine races carded to begin at 12 p.m.

The Sperryville course is proving popular with horsemen striving to get a jump on the competition early in the spring season, with full fields in the foxhunters' timber, maiden and open turf races as well as the newly-penned amateur highweight timber which is the 2013 iteration of the traditional Seven Corners series.

With entries down over the past few years in the division formerly limited to owner-riders, point-to-point officials wrangled the series condition to favor horses and riders available – and eager to participate – on the circuit.

The reworked division – open to amateur riders who hunt “regularly” on horses who also hunt – attracted seven entries, the field headed by sanctioned winner Triple Dip from the Jimmy Day stable, and four – Fogcutter, Whodoyoucallit, Dr. Alex and Rutledge Classic – from Eva Smithwick's barn in Middleburg.

Last spring's champion point-to-point trainer Neil Morris saddles two first-timers over hurdles, two-time national champion jockey Paddy Young rides a pair each for his wife Leslie and Day, and Virginia champ Jeff Murphy rides the card (headlined by multiple 2012 National Steeplechase Association hurdle winner Extraextraordinary for Doug Fout.

Junior champions Kelly Witte and Erin Swope headline the field masters' 'chase to open the card, with their winning ponies Missy (Witte's small champion) and Jordan (Swope's large pony champion) to face off in the first.

Thornton Hill Farm is located a couple of miles southeast of Sperryville on Route 522. Parking and admission options include homestretch tailgate spots, hillside picnic spaces and general admission.

Call for information: (540) 987-8338. Complete entries are online at www.CentralEntryOffice.com.
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