by Marcella Peyre-Ferry
The 16th annual edition of the Willowdale Steeplechase is a Mother's Day tradition in Chester County, PA, drawing thousands of spectators to the Unionville racecourse for a full card of seven National Steeplechase Association-sanctioned races and four pony races for juniors.
The timber course at Willowdale took its toll on entries, with only three horses finishing out of seven starters in the $20,000 Willowdale Steeplechase. Western Fling, owned by Crestview Farm and ridden by Brooks Durkee ran ahead of trouble, giving him an easy win in a time of 8:34 3/5 for the 3˝ mile course over 22 fences.
Hidden Key, owned by Alfred Griffin, and Lucy Goelet's Twill Do were the first to fall, going down on the early fences, before coming into view for the first time. Te Akau Five, and Dr. Ramsey refused at the third fence and Irish Laddie lost rider/trainer Desmond Fogarty, leaving Western Fling alone out front. Te Akau Five, under James Slater and Dr. Ramsey, with Diana Gillam, were able to continue and complete the course, but neither were ever able to regain the ground they had lost to make any kind of run at Western Fling.
Western Fling's trainer Katherine McKenna noted that the gelding had been hunted all year, so she was not worried about the distance for the race. Once he was alone by a large margin, he only had to stay safely on course. "I figured Brooks has ridden around this course enough he knows where he's going," she said.
The timber course was also a problem for entries in the Foxhunter's Race. The shorter, 3 mile course had only 16 fences to contend with, and skipped the larger of the two water jumps, but the timber rails were not friendly to the field.
Native Mark, of Wits End Stable fell with James Stierhoff, and Quaremba lost rider/owner Donald Cochron with just under a mile to go. The two horses ran with the remaining pack of three, and Quaremba even jumped the final fence alongside the mounted runners.
As the horses galloped through the stretch, jockey Shane Burke rode Augustin Stable's South Monarch to the lead and a win over George Hundt on Professor Maxwell and Brooks Durkee on Straight Path.
Quaremba was running with them to the wire when he stepped on dangling reins and fell again. The horse suffered a large gash on his right foreleg below the knee and had to have first aid administered on the track before leaving in the horse ambulance. Whether it was that tumble or the fall at the jump that caused the injury was unclear at the time of the incident.
Winner Western Front is trained by Sanna Hendricks, who also trains Fieldview, (owned by Eugene Weymouth, and ridden by Jody Petty) the winner of The Folly, a two and a half mile claiming race.
Rose Tree Cup
Gryffindor, owned by Dapple Stable, was the winner of the $20,000 Rose Tree Cup. Jockey Xavier Aizpuru held Gryffindor in the second spot for most of the 2˝ mile hurdle race, jumping side by side with leader, Mattssutterrun (owned by Cortright Wetherill), and then turning in a strong stretch run for the win.
"He's usually a good front runner," said Gryffindor's trainer Thomas Voss. "He really jumped that last fence well. He tries real hard."
Kinross Farm owns the third place finisher in the Rose Tree Cup, Humdinger, as well as Thegooddieyoung, winner in the $10,000 Marshall W. Jenney Memorial amateur hurdle race, and Hey Doctor, winner of the Liam Magee flat race, ridden by Diane Gillam. All three are trained by Neil Morris.
Rounding out the seven race card, Male Supremacy, owned and trained by George Robertson, Jr. and ridden to victory by Paddy Young, won the day's opener Landhope Cup
In addition to the sanctioned races, Willowdale is very supportive of young riders with their pony races.
Erin Nolan was the winner of the small pony race over a half mile flat course on Jessica Knox's pony Riptide. "I've ridden him five times. He's second and first all the time," Erin said. "Before we got him, he was badly abused so he's wary about stuff."
Erin probably will outgrow racing, but she enjoys eventing, and even if Riptide gets too small for her she does not want to give him up. "I'm going to keep him. He's my life," she said.
Erin attends Upland Country Day School, as does Lydia Fisher, who won the second division of the small pony race on her mare Sunshine Rose. Eleven year old Lydia hunts with her pony, and enjoys the speed. "She's a pretty good jumper and she likes to go," Lydia said.
Robyn Weaver rode Ode to Joy to a win in the large pony race for trainer Monika Dujardin. "She's just a great pony. She's always a little bit nervous at the start, She eases up then she just keeps it going," Robyn said.
This is Robyn's first year of racing, and with Ode to Joy the pair won both their earlier races this season at Plumstead and Winterthur. The 15 year old from Quarryville has never hunted, but she likes jumping and hopes to do starter horse trials.
There was also a flat race for horses with junior riders, which was won by Brittany Trimble on My Son Spider, owned and trained by Wendy Kinnamon. "He's very classy. He's a perfect ride," said Brittany, who is in her final year as a junior. She hopes to go on to ride in some amateur races. "As long as it's flat races. I like it because it's fun and I have the best horses to ride."
Western Fling, in terrific shape from a solid winter's hunting finished the three and a half mile Willowdale Steeplechase far ahead of his competitors. Western Fling, trained by Katherine McKenna and ridden by Brooks Durkee, was one of the three horses of seven starters to finish the race, and ran most of it without another horse near him.
In the Rose Tree Cup, the eventual winner, Gryffindor, ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, runs second behind Mattssutterrun, ridden by Danielle Hodsdon.
In the Foxhunter race, Quaremba, jumping loose at right, lost rider Donald Cochran, but continued the race to the wire, where he stepped on dangling reins and fell again. Left to right the other horses are Straight Path with Brooks Durkee, who finished thrid; Professor Maxwell with George Hundt, Jr. who finished second, and the winner, South Monarch, owned by Augustine Stables and ridden by Shane Burke.
In section Two of the small pony races, (left to right) Sunshiner Rose, owned, trained and ridden by Lydia Fisher, Frisky Business, owned, trained and ridden by Ali Corkran, and Cream, owned, trained and ridden by Nick Juvonen finished first, second and third respectively.
Ode to Joy gets a pat from rider Robyn Weaver as they near the finish line alone in the large pony race.