Whenever you have a winner, you celebrate, and jockey Carl Rafter had plenty to celebrate at the Radnor Hunt Races. Rafter won both of the biggest prizes of the day with Keystone Thoroughbreds' Meet at Eleven in The Radnor Hunt Cup, and then The National Hunt Cup, aboard Country Cousin, owned by Oakwood Stable. That was not quite enough for the rider, who finished out the final race of the day with a win on Chadds Ford Stables' Saluda Sam.
You could not have asked for a more beautiful day for the 80th running of the Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, PA on Sat. May 15. The course was fast even after heavy rains the night before, and the crowd of spectators was estimated as high as 20,000.
Rafter ran in the pack in the lone timber race of the day, the $40,000 Radnor Hunt Cup. Twenty fences in three and a quarter miles had the jumps well spread, giving time for Rafter to stay in touch with the changing leaders without pressing his horse, Meet at Eleven, until they turned toward the stretch.
Artist's Stroke had gone down with Diane Gilliam early in the first lap of the race, cutting the field to five. In the stretch, Meet at Eleven, trained by Todd McKenna, passed The Whacker and Music to My Ears going on to win by 3 ½ lengths.
National Hunt Cup
It was a much closer win for Rafter in the next race on the card, the $50,000 National Hunt Cup. Ambersham, ridden by William Dowling for Mrs. S.K. Johnson, led most of the race. After a fall by Danielle Hodson on Nationbuilder, Rafter settled into second with Country Cousin. As they turned for home in the 2 3/8 mile hurdle race Ambersham faded to third and it was a fight between Country Cousin and Left Unsaid with Ross Geraghty up. The two went under the wire side-by-side, with Country Cousin the winner by a head.
Rafter won the Henry Collins Steeplechase, a maiden claiming race, riding Saluda Sam for trainer Katherine McKenna. It was also a very good day for the McKennas, with Katherine also training Move Up Stables' Quiet Approval (jockey Jody Petty) the winner of the day's opening race, The Milfern Cup maiden race.
Rider Paddy Young was also a multiple visitor to the winners' circle, riding Kenneth and Sara Ramsey's entry Mabou (trainer Tom Voss) to an almost wire-to-wire win in the Vita C. Thompson Memorial Steeplechase.
The Ramseys were not there to see their horse win because they were watching another race, the Preakness, where their horse Pleasant Prince did not finish as well as their hurdler.
Young had a second win in the James M. Moran, Jr. Steeplechase on Eagle Beagle, owned by Baracuda Stable, but he had a hard fight for it. Duke of Earl, owned by Henry Stern and trained by Jack Fisher had won this race in 2008 and 2009, and was looking for a hat trick with rider Xavier Aizpura up. Duke of Earl and Eagle Beagle traded places at the top during the latter part of the race, but it was Eagle Beagle that ultimately finished on top with Duke of Earl second and Moneytrain third.
The purpose of the Radnor Hunt Races goes beyond the racing and the lavish tailgate parties. The mission of the event is Racing for Open Space and the Brandywine Conservancy is its beneficiary. Race Committee Chair Betty Moran anticipates that with the high attendance for the day, they will have raised well over $10,000 for the Conservancy.
This was the best day for racing that Moran can recall, and she has been coming to the Radnor Hunt Races "since I was young enough to pick the cutest jockey". She thanks the horsemen, the volunteers and the corporate sponsors who make the event possible. "This is the most beautiful, wonderful day. The horses have come in safely, the turf is in great condition, everybody is in very good spirits," she said.