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Spring Racing is Right Around the Corner

Spring Racing is Right Around the Corner

Written by Victoria Peace / Photos by Joanne Maisano 

Spring is finally in the air, which means racing season is right around the corner in Middleburg. If you are anxiously awaiting the return of tailgating with friends and a program packed full of exciting races, read on to get the latest updates about the spring race calendar in Hunt Country. 

This year, the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) is teaming up with the Old Dominion Point-to-Point to host three sanctioned races with purses on April 8. “This provides an extra opportunity for our horsemen to run for races with large purses,” NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo says. He is excited about the partnership and the benefits that it brings to both the Old Dominion Hunt and the NSA.

Gallo is responsible for directing the racing program throughout the year for the NSA. In this role, he is in constant contact with trainers and race meet directors. During the racing season, Gallo travels to a meet every weekend where he works with the stewards, walks the racecourse, coordinates the video cameras, and helps with the countless other aspects of race officiating. 

“We are looking forward to our Virginia meets which are certainly some of the most popular on our circuit,” Gallo emphasizes. “The Virginia steeplechase program has been important for years and years.” To Gallo, the Middleburg Spring Races and the Virginia Gold Cup are “key stops during the spring” and “play a big role in the National Steeplechase Association.”

For those new to racing, the Middleburg Spring Races and the Virginia Gold Cup are both sanctioned races, which means they are regulated and run by the National Steeplechase Association. Jockeys compete against each other for monetary purses and the races tend to have a larger number of entries. In contrast, point-to-point races are organized and run by local hunts. Jockeys do not compete for monetary purses. However, many jockeys who compete in sanctioned races also compete in the point-to-points in order to practice for larger races later in the season.

Don Yovanovitch, secretary and treasurer of the Virginia Steeplechase Association and president of the Virginia Point-to-Point Foundation, encourages Hunt Country residents to attend the point-to-point races this season because they often provide a more intimate spectating experience than the bigger sanctioned races. Everyone is welcome to visit the paddock and stand right up next to the rail to see the horses go by, whereas at some of the bigger races, these areas might be restricted. 

Yovanovitch also encourages spectators to attend multiple race meets per season in order to follow the progress of their favorite horses and jockeys. The intimate and personal atmosphere of the point-to-point makes it easy to develop a “fan club” for certain horses, and it is fun to watch them advance throughout the spring.

Yovanovitch spent 32 years as a jockey, during which time he won seven leading rider awards. In the early ’80s, he started training for himself and had an extremely successful career developing young riders and amateurs. It was also during this period that he got involved with the Point-to-Point Association, which he later changed into a foundation, creating an avenue for the organization to accept donations. Today, the foundation helps promote racing, amateur racing, continued education seminars for officials, and safety requirements, among other initiatives. In addition to his role at the Point-to-Point Foundation and the Virginia Steeplechase Foundation, Yovanovitch has held numerous other leadership positions in the sport including being the first American appointed to the board of the Paris, France-based Federation of Gentlemen and Lady Riders.

Personally, his favorite point-to-point race is the Rokeby Bowl at the Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point. He won it six times as a rider and nine as a trainer. According to Yovanovitch, the 3.5-mile race is a “strategic race to ride” and requires endurance from the horses early in the season. It is one of the races that provides early spring preparation for the Virginia Gold Cup, which is run in May.

John Wyatt, master of the Warrenton Hunt, reported that this year, the hunt has made several new additions to the point-to-point race they host on March 18. Firstly, they have added a direct link to their website where the public can buy tents, parking spots, and general entry tickets and view pertinent information about the race. Wyatt encourages anyone who is interested in attending to visit the site which includes information about parking, attire, and directions to the course.

Secondly, Warrenton has added two new zones to the race in order to make the event even more fan and family friendly: a vendor zone featuring six local businesses, and a kids zone with activities including coloring, face painting, and a miniature kids’ racecourse with jumps. Wyatt says that Warrenton aspires for the point-to-point to be a local, family event that everyone can attend to have an up-close experience with racing. ML

Rappahannock Hunt Point-to-Point
Location: The Hill
Boston, Virginia
Date: March 4
Time: 12 p.m.

Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point
Location: Airlie Race Course
Warrenton, Virginia
Date: March 18
Time: 12 p.m.

Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point
Location: Salem Course
Upperville, Virginia
Date: March 25
Time: 1 p.m.

Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point
Location: Ben Venue Farm
Ben Venue, Virginia
Date: April 8
Time: 12 p.m. 

Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point
Woodley Farm
Berryville, Virginia
Date: April 16
Time: 1 p.m.

Middleburg Spring Races
Location: Glenwood Park
Middleburg, Virginia
Date: April 22
Time: 1:30 p.m. 

Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point
Location: Morven Park
Leesburg, Virginia
Date: April 23
Time: 12 p.m.

Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point
Location: Glenwood Park
Middleburg, Virginia
Date: April 30
Time: 1 p.m.

Virginia Gold Cup
Location: Great Meadow
The Plains, Virginia
Date: May 6
Time: 1 p.m.

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

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