By Dulcy B. Hooper | Photos by Jennifer Gray
Al Griffin is already one very busy man, and with his new role, he’s no doubt about to get even busier.
As has been reported widely throughout the horse world, Griffin was elected president of the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) at the group’s Jan. 17 board meeting, an election that catapults him to a unique position: the first Virginian to head the governing body since the tenure of the late Randy Rouse in the early 1970s.
This is of particular interest to horse aficionados in the Middleburg area, which Griffin describes as the “mecca for jump racing.” The International Gold Cup alone attracts tens of thousands of spectators, and the Virginia Gold Cup is NSA’s largest meet in terms of attendance.
“There are so many in this area tied to steeplechase racing,” he said. “It is so ingrained here. Point-to-points and sanctioned meets are not just races, they are community events.”
Griffin says that he is “really honored to have been elected president of the National Steeplechase Association,” the overseeing body for all jump racing, including Gold Cup and the Middleburg Races. “The National Steeplechase Association is a fairly complicated organization,” he said. “For instance, there are 27 meets, and each one has its own governing body. That individuality is a strength. We have to look at how we move forward while still maintaining and honoring the traditions and individuality of each race.” Griffin says that he will also be focused on “today’s messaging and communicating with the next generation of race attendees.”
“I haven’t really been in the steeplechase scene long enough to see how it’s changed over the years,” said jockey Emme Fullilove. “But I think that Dr. Griffin’s election will be a very positive change for the future of the NSA.”
(Above: Al Griffin)
Of particular significance to Fullilove is Griffin’s successful efforts to change the rules at the last International Gold Cup, allowing amateurs to ride. “This was especially great for me, as it allowed me to ride in the flat race,” she said. “Hopefully, Dr. Griffin’s election will mean more opportunities for amateur jockeys, which in turn will grow the jockey colony.”
Griffin has already played a major role in ushering in some modern-day changes, including his involvement in the National Steeplechase Association’s move in late 2018 to institute high-definition imagery at all of its race meets. Griffin was also instrumental in the formation of the Virginia Equine Alliance in 2013, and obtaining legislative approval for pari-mutuel racing at the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup.
“Al’s role with the NSA brings a different aspect to the sport,” said jockey Kieran Norris. “He is at the ground level, after running his own horses, and has a good grasp of what owners and trainers are dealing with.” Norris was the National Steeplechase Association Rider of the Year in 2016. He won the Open Timber Race several years ago at the Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point (riding Aero, owned by Griffin), and has won numerous other
“At Gold Cup, for instance, Al would walk with us and talk about ground conditions, what we thought about the track,” he said, “He was always very involved in solving problems.” As the National Steeplechase Association kicks off its 2020 season on March 21, Griffin says he will “strive to foster continued growth of steeplechasing into a bright, sustainable future for our sport, our horsemen, and our race meets.”
(Above left to right: Kieran Norris and Emme Fullilove)
His leadership has particular meaning for the Middleburg area. “Steeplechasing has such a long and storied history in our area,” he said. “For instance, The Middleburg Spring Races — 100 years of the same race being celebrated this spring. It should be applauded that they have maintained the mystique and authenticity of the sport throughout that century of racing. So many local people have volunteered over that time to make the races happen. I can think of two and three generations of families who were instrumental then and now.”
In addition to his leadership of the National Steeplechase Association, Griffin co-chairs the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup, has served as a member of NSA’s board of directors, and has wide-ranging experience in Virginia horse racing and fox hunting. In addition to this, he has maintained a 35-year practice of orthodontics in Warrenton and Middleburg (Griffin & Errera Orthodontics), is a diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, and teaches biomechanics and clinical practice at Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine. More than 20 years ago, he helped found, and served as the first dental director of the Fauquier Free Clinic, serving members of the community unable to afford medical and dental care. ML
This article first appeared in the March 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.