The Montpelier Estate was the home of America’s 4th president James Madison and his wife Dolley. It’s located just west of Orange, in the Piedmont portion of Central VA.
History of Montpelier Races
After 1901 the Montpelier estate belonged to the DuPont family, one of whom, Marion DuPont Scott, was an avid and famed horsewoman. She made improvements to Montpelier that reflected her interest in racing and breeding a fine line of thoroughbred horses. So it was a natural extension of the DuPont family interests when the Montpelier races opened its grounds and invited the public to the steeplechase and flat training track on the Montpelier grounds in 1929. The Montpelier races are always held on the first Saturday in November and they are a premier event on the National Steeplechase Association circuit. This year (2017) the races will be held on Saturday, Nov. 4th.
Okay, so what’s it like to visit Montpelier on race day?
In a word… impressive.
The races are run rain or shine, so you can have the best of a warm autumn Virginia afternoon, or the chill of a rainy day. Either way, the traditions of Montpelier will capture your spirit and draw you into a genteel racing world that feels timeless. The Montpelier races open at 9:00 a.m. and you will need a parking pass. Previous donors have first dibs on the closest parking spaces to the track, but tailgating goes on everywhere throughout the day, although grilling options are limited and discreet. You’ll be able to view the races from a location very near the rail. The sounds of thundering hooves and heavy breathing, the smell of leather and horses and sod … they all overwhelm your senses as the horses gallop past you in a thrilling spectacle.
The Races at Montpelier
There are various types of races. Two races are run on the flat ground; five races involve fences and jumps. The distance for most races is 2 miles, so horses make a couple of trips around the course. You’ll want to stay at least until the sixth race which is the one where the horses jump live hedge fences. If you decide to wander the grounds at Montpelier, the mansion is open to the public at reduced prices on race day. If you show up early, the first race is the Jack Russell terrier race at 10:30, before the first of seven horse races begin at 12:30.
The Steeplechase Jockey
The jockeys for a steeplechase race have a bit of extra equipment. The National Steeplechase Association requires jockeys to wear certified helmets that meet stringent crash-protection standards, and they carry padded whips to protect the well-being of the steeplechase horses. The weights carried by steeplechase riders are heavier than flat course races; and steeplechase jockeys tend to be taller and heavier than other jockeys. Many experienced jockeys come from Ireland and England, and there are women steeplchase jockeys as well.
What About Race Day Attire?
The jockeys wear the silks and colors of the owners (they and the trainers also share with the owners in the monies).
You meant what about YOUR attire on race day?
You’ll see all sorts of outfits, from serious equestrian attire to simple casual weekend clothes. Layers are always a good idea for Virginia autumn activities. If you want to participate, there’s a hat contest. Celebrate your inner steeplechase.
History and Details of Steeplechase
Background of steeplechase:
These races had their roots in Ireland, where fox-hunting riders would sometimes match up their horses by racing to particular distant landmarks… the steeples being a very visible landmark. Thus, a “steeplechase”. A steeplechase horse is a thoroughbred like all thoroughbreds that race at U.S. racetracks. But steeplechase horses must have two other attributes as well. They must be able to jump fences at a high rate of speed, and they must have the stamina to compete the distance of a 2-mile course.
The Steeplechase Horse
A steeplechase horse is a thoroughbred, just like those that race at other American flat racetracks. In addition to speed, the steeplechase horse must possess the ability to jump fences at a fast pace. They usually are a little older than the horses that race on the flat, though many of them have had experience on the flat.
The Community Benefits of Steeplechase Racing
Of course, the steeplechase horse owners want to win their share of the total purse money. But there’s a big benefit to the communities where the races are held. In addition to the funds of the participants, communities where the races are held also enjoy the revenues and influx of visitors. And more broadly, American steeplechase racing is unique because the events invariably support charitable efforts and community causes.
For more information….Contact Phone: (540) 672 – 0027
11407 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station, VA 22957