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Chester County Press

Fun and excitement at the 31st running of the Willowdale Steeplechase races

May 11 offered a beautiful day for racing over fences and all the other events and that go along with it.  The 31st running of the Willowdale Steeplechase races featured terrier races, pony races,  a car show, shopping, children’s activities, tailgating and fun with friends.

Tailgating is always popular at the steeplechases. Some do it just for fun while others prepare to compete in the tailgate competition or hat contest. This year, there were two themes to the tailgate competition to spark ideas – “Downton Abbey” or “Barbie.” 

Enjoying the day did not require a theme. Paul and Karen Martin from Lancaster County were joined by local friends Richard and Enid O’Donnell to enjoy the races. Heavily involved in the sport of carriage driving, both couples support all aspects of equestrian sport. 

“We decided to tailgate and still be part of things. We always enjoy the countryside,” Paul Martin said. “It’s good, friendly camaraderie. Everyone here is interested in equines.”

In the car show parking area, there was still a good view of the racecourse. For Christine Malone of Wilmington, bringing the family’s 1962 MGA convertible for the car show was somewhat bittersweet. She grew up in the area near Willowdale and remembers the property as it was when it was a dairy farm. 

“I’m not a car show person. I do it because I want to come to the races,” Malone said. “It’s very relaxed. What I like about it is it benefits land preservation.”

The Willowdale Steeplechase is a 501c3 non-profit organization that raises funds for clean water through the Stroud Water Research Center and veterinary excellence through the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center.

It takes many volunteers to make the day a success, and many of them come from outside the local community. Hannah Renner came to the races from Baltimore, Md. to work at the souvenir shirts stand. Originally from Texas, she had never seen a steeplechase race before. She likes the idea of the head-to-head competition rather than individually timed runs. 

“It makes a lot more sense than it does with a rodeo,” she said. 

On the racing side of the event, the featured $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase was won by Our Friend, owned by Armata Stables, trained by Joseph Davies and ridden by Todd Davies. Our Friend raced to the win by an 11-and-a-half-length margin.