Racing the wind at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup
By Nancy Johnson
Despite cool temperatures and high wind gusts, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup marked its 80th running with good fields in the races and a well-bundled crowd on Nov. 2.
One tailgater said, “I’ve seen worse days, I’ve seen better. It’s the first weekend in November, so you get what you get. It’s the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, and we never miss it!”
Greg and Winter Paxson, of River Hills Foxhounds, which serves as outriders, admitted it was a bit cold sitting atop a horse. “We do a lot more standing around than the jockeys who are racing, but we’re used to it,” Winter said with a smile. She explained that River Hills, which hunts in southern Lancaster County and southwestern Chester County, volunteers as outriders to keep the competition as safe as possible for the jockeys and horses. They lead the horses to the start, chase loose horses and attend to the competitors in many other ways.
“We do all the local races from Brandywine Hills in the early spring, all the way up through the Hunt Cup," Winter said. "It’s our way to give back to the racing industry and to the community."
Greg explained that River Hills is very family-oriented. His parents, as well as an uncle and cousin, are all involved with events like the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
Winter had another concern during the races – her six-week old daughter, Willow. “I’ll have to get off sometime during the races and feed the baby," she said, "but she’s already getting accustomed to this crazy lifestyle."
For Lexi Simmons of Cochranville, her first Pennsylvania Hunt Cup experience was very positive. The 13-year-old rode her pony, Despicable Me, to finish second by a nose in the Medium Pony section of the Pennsylvania Junior Hunt Cup.
The race, which is approximately 1.5 miles, differs from most of the local junior races in that the competitors follow a field master for the majority of the race. The concept is based in teaching the young riders control. They jump nine fences, again not the norm, as most junior races are strictly on the flat. They are not permitted to pass the field master; at the risk of elimination. On the second loop, the field master lets the young jockeys race to the finish line.
Lexi, 13, has competed with Despicable Me in a number of Pony Club activities, both show jumping and eventing, but she and her pony are both new to racing. “It’s so much fun," she said. "And especially in this format – the flat is so boring.”
Lexi had the support of her mother Cindy, and sister Shauna. She added a good luck charm from her grandfather. Walter Marks, a member of the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, gave Lexi his old brown and while racing silks. She wore them proudly.
The main races, as usual, offered unexpected outcomes and were exciting to watch. The first race, the Lewis C. Ledyard Memorial, a Maiden Timber race (for horses who have never won a race over timber), had eight starters, but only two horses finished.
In the second race, the Arthur O. Choate Memorial, an allowance race for horses who have never won more than two races over timber, the horse that led from the start, Super Saturday, fell late in the race.
The feature race, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, a four-mile race with a $35,000 purse, went right to the wire with four horses in contention.
Proceeds from the event benefited the Chester County Food Bank.