Foxfield Steeplechase Races
A summary of the Foxfield Races, one of America's most well-known steeplechase horse racing events.
In the grand tradition of steeplechase racing, the Foxfield Races occur every spring and fall just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Since the spring of 1978, families and racers have been gathering at the hills of Foxfield to watch as the equestrians sprint through the course, leaping gates and fences that would otherwise bar their passage.
Steeplechase racing is a mixture of flatland racing and show horse jumping. Most of the horses are former flatlanders, who now move on to different racing pastures. Steeplechase has all of the thrills and speed of horse racing, but combines it with the precision of jumping. The fences themselves are man-made, fifty-two inch hurdles. Most steeplechase races, Foxfield included, are tailgate affairs for families and corporate groups. While certain reserved parking is available to those who wish to park up close, most of the spectators simply set up for a picnic on the slopes, which is often quite a grand affair. Many families bring extensive lunches and fine foods. There are no grandstands at the races, so spectators are encouraged to walk up to the fences or straight-aways, where they can watch the racers from up close. With crowds that range from eighteen to twenty three thousand people, the Foxfield races are no small event. Spectators come from all walks of life, with a typical crowd made up of steeplechase enthusiasts, Charlottesville residents, college students, and tourists.
Mariann de Tejeda founded the Foxfield races on property once owned by Grover Vandervender, a well-known Virginian horseman and hunter. Because she felt that the sponsors, racers and spectators have a commitment to helping others, she founded the Foxfield races as a charity event. Profits from the race are sent to one corporate charity each year. Though Foxfield is a young event, by steeplechase standards, it has developed quite a following of enthusiastic fans. There were steeplechase races in the United States almost one hundred fifty years before Foxfield began hosting them-the very first in the U.S. being held in 1834 in Washington, D.C. In spite of this long tradition, many steeplechase fans consider the Foxfield races to be among the most prestigious and enjoyable steeplechase events held each year.
Steeplechase racing can be the extravaganza of the season for many enthusiasts. While corporations often rent entire tents for employees and their families to celebrate and socialize, most spectators watch from the hillsides in small groups of friends and family. With generous and extravagant meals prepared, everyone can eat and drink his fill while watching the exciting races that fly by below. And when they're not enjoying their lunches, everyone can roam down all the way to the fence that separates the race from the spectators. Watching the horses and their riders gracefully leap over the fences or sprint by only a few feet away as they cross the finish line is enough excitement for any sporting enthusiast.