AND THEY’RE OFF! Point to point season kicks off this month in the Blue Ridge
AND THEY’RE OFF!
Point to point season kicks off this month in the Blue Ridge
by Julie Reardon
Spring may not feel like it’s here yet, but it’s a sure sign it’s on the way when the point to point season gets underway in early March. And, there’s no better cure for a little cabin fever than taking in some world class racing action over fences just an hour from Washington D.C. It all starts Saturday, March 7th with a brand new course in rural Culpeper County hosting the Rappahannock Hunt Point to Point Races. Rappahannock’s races, long a fixture on the early spring circuit, resume after a 12-year absence returning in 2020 with a new location on what may be the circuit’s prettiest course in Boston, Va., at the Hill Farm. This location is near the Culpeper/Rappahannock county line about halfway between Culpeper and Sperryville.
Point to point races are the minor leagues of steeplechasing, or racing over fences, a sport popular in our state since colonial times. This type of racing has its roots in the hunt field–hundreds of years ago, a pair of Irish foxhunters raced cross country using a church steeple as a landmark, to settle the question of who had the faster hunting horse. Now, as back then, horses still race over natural countryside and farmland and jump natural obstacles, although courses are set up so spectators can see all or most of the race from the sidelines or the infield. Later in the spring, races are sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association and offer cash purses and in some locations, parimutuel wagering, but the feeder program for these prestigious races is the local point to point circuit, with none bigger and more competitive than Virginia’s.
The local hunt clubs are the backbone and the labor force of the point to points in Virginia, where each club sponsors a race meet nearly every weekend in the spring. Foxhunting clubs are mostly subscription-based but for most, their point to point is the major source of income to offset the costs of maintaining a kennel of hounds, horses, trucks, trailers and tractors as well as associated feed, veterinary and staff expenses. Every hunt member, including non-riding social members, volunteers for the myriad tasks involved, from entries, hospitality tents, parking, programs and admissions, and course maintenance—no small task, since most of the “courses” are actually cow pastures.
These meets, long referred to as the “pots and pans” circuit, are considered “unsanctioned” and offer no prize money—horses race for trophies, season-end awards and bragging rights. But the competition is nevertheless fierce; point to points provide an important training ground for horses and riders that will go on to run in the bigger national races sanctioned by the sport’s governing body, the NSA, such as the Virginia Gold Cup. For the fans, the point to points offer the fans a chance to see the action up close and rub elbows with the owners, trainers and riders.
Admission fees are generally less than half of what the big sanctioned races cost, and most of the courses offer spectacular scenic views of the racing as well as the iconic Blue Ridge splendor in the background. Admission starts at just $7 per person at the Rappahannock Hunt’s March 7th races; a variety of reserved railside tailgating spaces and tent rentals are available by advance reservation as well. (Call 540-222-9887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for info) The location, at the Hill farm, 13257 Durante’s Curve, Boston VA, is a longtime favorite fixture for hunting for its rural beauty and sweeping vistas. This will be the first time racing will be held at the farm. The farm owner, himself a horseman and active participant in racing over fences as an owner, trainer and rider, has worked hard to install a first class course in a splendid little valley with sweeping views of not only the entire course, but the panoramic mountain vistas.
“He [the Hill farm owner Larry Levy] has pulled out the stops to make it perfect. You drive through the beautiful, pristine farm to get to it, and it’s in a natural bowl, with parking on three of the four sides of it. All will have really good views of the course,” said Rappahannock Hunt’s Barton Hitchcock, race committee co-chair. In addition to general admission parking, tailgating spaces and party tents are available to rent onsite that will have these same unimpeded views of the entire course as well as the mountains. “We’re having good food, too,” Hitchcock added. Not just the usual food truck fare, Barbara’s Soul Food will be one of the on-site vendors. “Really good stuff, like fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, good old country cooking.”
Race day attire is country casual; these March race meets are not as much about high fashion’s latest trends as they are about being warm and comfortable for early or variable spring weather. Head gear and footwear tend to be practical rather than fanciful. Admission prices vary for each race meet, most offer discounted pricing for advance ticket purchase and general admission on race day. Visit their websites if available or call the listed numbers for specific questions. Races are generally run rain or shine but unusually wet or inclement weather has been known to force postponement or even cancellation; if any questions call the information number listed for each race.
Saturday, March 7
Saturday, March 14
Saturday, March 21
Piedmont Fox Hounds Point to Point
Salem Course, Upperville, Virginia
Sunday, March 29
Orange County Hounds Point to Point
Locust Hill Farm, Middleburg, Virginia
Saturday, April 4
Sunday, April 12
Loudoun Hunt Point to Point
Oatlands Plantation, Leesburg, Virginia
Saturday, April 18
Sunday, April 19
Saturday, April 25
Sunday, April 26
Middleburg Hunt Point to Point
Glenwood Park, Middleburg, Virginia
Saturday, May 2