Susan Oakes, who holds records in the United Kingdom for jumping aside, flew in from Ireland to compete in (and win) the first Mrs. Miles Valentine Memorial Ladies Side Saddle race. Photo by Marcella Peyre-Ferry.
The 71st running of Mr. Stewarts Cheshire Foxhounds Point to Point races on Easter Sunday, March 27, added a new feature that harkens back to the past. The Unionville, Pa. course was the site for the first running of the Mrs. Miles Valentine Memorial Ladies Side Saddle race.
A field of 12 ladies riding aside took to the two-mile course over fences, with jumps set at an inviting 2’6”. Horses entered covered the full range of mounts you might see in the hunt field, from draft crosses and warmbloods to a Quarter Horse X Welsh crossbred, but it was an Irish-bred Thoroughbred with an Irish rider who led the field start to finish.
Susan Oakes flew in from Ireland to ride owner/trainer Stephanie Boyer’s veteran gelding Fort Henry. Fort Henry’s experience in the field and racing point-to-point combined with Oakes’ expertise aside made for a confident trip and a win by a wide margin.
“It went really really well. I didn’t know what to expect,” Oakes said. “He’s very keen so I let him jump off in front and from there a few girls joined me here and there. I tried to slow the pace in different places going downhill because it is a little hard for side saddle ladies to go down the hill, changing reins, so I wanted everyone to get their left shoulder back and then we just pitched for home. Once we crossed by the stands here he never missed a beat. Coming down to the last he went extremely fast. He stood off at the wings and popped the last. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Oaks is from County Meath, (Mead) and is Master of the Grallagh Harriers riding aside. She rode the first winner of the Dianas of the Chase side saddle race in the UK and holds three records jumping aside at 6’8” over the puissance wall; 6’5” over the triple bar and 1-40 on a Connemara Pony over the puissance wall.
“To come here and win this race in America means a lot to me,” she said. “Side saddle in recent years is making a huge comeback. It’s fantastic to see so many ladies, and I must say, they’re very, very brave ladies to take on what they did today.”
Second under the wire in the Side Saddle Race was Lucky to Have Him with Mary Musheno followed by Bridgette Boland on King of Hearts and Maureen Britell on Tango.
The feature race of the day was the Open Timber race for the Cheshire Bowl, won by Senior Senator, owned by Irvin Crawford, trained by Joseph Davies and ridden by Eric Poretz.
Grinding Speed won the Cheshire Bowl for the past three years, and was in the field again. In spite of a strong run and a good effort in the stretch drive for jockey Mark Beecher, the grey could not quite catch Senior Senator.
“One of the craziest horses that ever looked through a bridle,” is how trainer Joseph Davies describes Senior Senator. He tells how they put in a claim on the horse in a maiden flat race, where he flipped over backwards twice in the gate. “They let him run and the claim went through. We tried to get out of it.”
The bad behavior didn’t change, with Senior Senator running over hurdles at Fair Hill, but making a right turn to jump into the crowd. “Nobody would ride him. This little kid, Eric Poretz, he’s stuck to him. He’s the bravest kid,” Davies said. “He tries to unseat you all the way to the start, then he freezes – he’s a freak. His legs are terrible conformation. His legs look like a giraffe, but he can run and jump. We can’t hunt him. Blythe (Davies) hunted him one time and he bolted through the woods - that was the end of that.”
Davies was also the trainer of the Heavyweight Race winner, Our Town, owned by Gerry Brewster, Richie Blue and George Tydings and ridden by McLane Hendriks. “He hunts two days a week with Elkridge Hartford. The whole family rides him,” Davies said. “He’s a very big horse, he looks like a half-bred. He’s got a lovely disposition, he’s probably too nice to race.”
Hendriks also won the Novice race on Morning Star Farm’s Carrickboy, trained by his father Ricky Hendriks. “They’re both great jumpers and just won off the jumping,” he said, going on to describe Carrickboy. “He has quite a bit of experience over in England. He ran on the front end over there, so we better keep that the same since he’s had some success doing that over there. We’ve been fox hunting him quite a bit. He’s taken to that well, so we decided to run him over timber and he’s taken to that well too. He’s a special horse.”
The Ladies Race was won by Adair Bonsal Stifel’s Cannon’s Call, trained by William Dowling and ridden by Annie Yeager. “It went really well. I was told to be at the back because he’s not the bravest horse, but he was - he was great,” Yeager said. “I was worried about holding him. His jumping was fantastic today. He didn’t make any mistakes, there weren’t any questionable fences. He had a turn of foot at the end of the race that was really surprising.”
Wrapping up the timber racing for the day was the Foxhunter’s Timber Race. With just two runners, it looked like it might be a good tight race as the two were close coming to the top of the stretch, but Lauren Schock on McCrady’s went off course and missed the last fence, leaving Casey Pinkard on Magnitude an easy run to the finish line.
“He went great. He jumped great, and settled, he’s a very cool horse,” Pinkard said.
As the first point to point of the season, many of the Junior riders were racing veteran ponies that were new to them.
Twelve-year-old Teddy Davies won the small pony race on Hoof Hearted. This was his first race on the pony he is leasing from owner Elizabeth Barr. “He was very good at the start,” Davies said. “I never looked behind me. I wasn’t sure how many ponies there were behind me.”
Another junior from a riding family, Nina McKenna, won the Medium Pony Race on Fionna. “It was really fun. This is my first time racing her, so I didn’t really know how she ran, but when I got on her I was like wow – really fast,” she said. “It’s really fun. I love it.”
Twelve-year-old Anna Farber won the Large Pony Race on Lauren Schock’s Mookie Monster. “She was great. I kind'a held her back in the beginning, then I just let her rip after a while,” she said. Farber had raced before with a medium pony. “I can’t really compare them because they’re both great.”
In addition to the pony races on the flat, there was also a Junior Field Master’s Chase with ponies and horses racing together for separate awards. The fastest pony was Kiss My Sass, ridden by Abigail Murphy, while the first under the wire and the horse division winner was Embarrassed, ridden by Skyler McKenna.
The race day finished with a good turnout of seven runners for the Flat Race. The winner was Rosbrian Farm’s Mizyen, ridden by Michael Byrne for trainer Ricky Hendriks.
Cheshire is the first of three days of racing in the Delaware Valley Point to Point Association series, followed by Brandywine Hills Point to Point and the Fair Hill Point to Point Races.