by Carrie Gilbert
Twelve thousand dedicated supporters of the High Hope Steeplechase filed into the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday, May 20th to attend the 45th running of the event. The grounds were packed with spectators who arrived mid-morning for a 5-card race day along with family fun and entertainment including live demonstrations, terrier races, arts and crafts and children’s activities.
Prior to the start of the race card, fans enjoyed a parade and a meet and greet with the Woodford Hounds and an exciting demonstration from Double Dan Horsemanship. Dan James, an Australian horseman who now resides in Lexington entertained the crowd with an amazing act with his faithful steeds Amelia and Apollo.James demonstrated trick riding with the horses individually as well as tandem standing on their backs while the horses were set cantering down the steeplechase track! The crowd was engaged as they witnessed Amelia and Apollo show their trust for their handler and showed a wonderful bond between horse and human.
The crowd began to push their way to the rail for the first race at 1:45 to kick off the 45th racing event. Bill Wofford, High Hope’s race day coordinator and former President was hoping for back to back victories in the $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle race with this own chaser. Last year, Wofford trained Beer Fan to victory and was hopeful that his 2012 entry Bold Adventure could do the same. As the race unfolded it was Royale trained by Arch Kingsley Jr. and piloted by Willie McCarthy that took home the top prize, with Wofford’s Bold Adventure finishing 2 ¾ length behind.
The two remaining jump races left the crowd with thrills. Rainiero owned by the famous green and white silks of Augustin Stables stormed past his rivals and cleared the field by an incredible 14 ¼ lengths! The Richard Valentine trainee piloted by Matthew McCarron was the favorite going into the start and carried 12lbs. more than his closest rival. The last hurdle race carded was a 2 1/8 maiden with a field of 8. A more closely run race, the eventual winner Monteagle ridden by Gustav Dahl posted a 1 ¼ victory over Portrait Painter. Monteagle, trained by Jack Fisher and owned by Mrs. S.K. Johnston Jr. is a Kentucky-bred son of Mr. Greeley.
The hurdle excitement carried over to the remaining two races carded for the day, both on the flat, the North American Riding Academy graduating students’ race and the newly created Sportswoman’s Challenge presented by Susan G. Komen [Lexington]. Each year, for the past four editions of the NARA race, spectators are able to witness the future jockeys begin their careers. Under the guidance of Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron, students are brought along both technically and academically for futures as professional riders. The field of 4 graduating students took to the post for the 7 furlong race on their schooled mounts along with the pacesetters Remi Bellocq and McCarron. At the finish it was Mallory Strandberg who crossed the line first on “Ease”, an 8yo thoroughbred gelding. Close on her heels were fellow classmates Kali Francois, Rachel Lovelock and Crystal Carman.
The inaugural Sportswoman’s Challenge was the highlighted race of the day. With sponsorship and support from Susan G. Koman the 14 lady riders were equipped with pink attire for themselves and their horses!On the eve before the races a Calcutta auction was held at McCarthy’s Irish Pub for the horse and rider combinations to raise the purse money as well as to raise funds for the charities. This event raised $10,000 for the High Hope Charities including Cardinal Hill, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, The Secretariat Center and The Kentucky Horse Park Foundation. Each of the riders were women with very close ties to the thoroughbred industry such as Carleigh Fedorka, manager of Hinkle Farm, Nicole McEntee, administrator at Shadwell Farm and Victoria Oliver, a thoroughbred trainer. The requirements for the race were that all the women rode their own personal horses that were sport horses such as hunters, jumpers, foxhunters or eventers. The race was designed for strategy and safety, more than grit and speed. On race day the Woodford Hounds huntsman Glen Westmoreland volunteered to set the pace to keep the ladies and their steeds from charging to the wire too quickly and too early. In the end it was Andrea Gibbs, daughter of farm owner Bruce Gibbs of Greenfield Farm who sprinted the last two furlongs to the finish. Andrea and her mount Paisley, a thoroughbred gelding were sponsored by Sierra Farm.
The afternoon ended with a crowd of nearly 12,000 slowly packing up their tailgates, tents and leftover foodas another High Hope Steeplechase day came to a close. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful and the kids and families couldn’t have had more fun. Another race day in the record books with plans already in the works for next year.