Thornton Hill races jump-start the season

Thornton Hill Races | Rappahannock News
THORNTON HILL racecourse provides a spectacular Blue Ridge-enhanced setting for the new point-to-point event on March 3.

By Lauren R. Giannini
Special to the Rappahannock News

On March 3, Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds launches Virginia’s 2012 spring point-to-point season at the Thornton Hill racecourse in Sperryville.

Post time for the first race is noon, when the Junior Field Masters Chase goes under starter’s orders. The race card continues with seven more contests, including two hurdle, two flat and four timber races.

You don’t have to know horses to enjoy a point-to-point with its gorgeous thoroughbreds, intrepid jump jockeys, the brilliant palette of colors and the excitement of racing between the flags over natural countryside.

The Thornton Hill racecourse in Sperryville has hosted a September meet on the Virginia Steeplechase Association’s circuit since 2003. Last year’s merger of Thornton Hill with Fort Valley gave rise to this new point-to-point on the VPPA’s spring calendar on one of the circuit’s most beautiful and challenging courses.

“Most of the horsemen think that the Thornton Hill racecourse is one of the best on the steeplechase circuit,” said Jeff LeHew, joint master of foxhounds. “It has good hills and galloping stretches. The turf is great and drains really well. Footing is so important, coming off the winter. We’re hoping that the other hunts come out and support our point-to-point – as spectators and in the Junior Field Master Chase and the foxhunters timber race. We’re also having our traditional hound race where we run a drag around the course. That’s always been pretty popular with the crowd.”

Spectators range from enthusiasts who know all about packing tailgate picnics to newcomers attending their first point-to-point. You can reserve a parking space on the hill or infield for $50 to $100, depending on location, and invite a bunch of friends to your party – or pay the $20-per-car general admission at the gate.

It’s a fun day in the country, a great excuse for an al fresco party, and a terrific antidote for cabin fever. The spectacular views enhance all the other great elements of this rural sporting tradition. And the action continues on Sunday, March 4, with the first-ever Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hunter Pace, when the first riders start at 1.

The Virginia Point-to-point Association Hunter Paces allow enthusiasts to get actively involved with this spring series in which participants earn points toward year-end awards. The series gets underway Feb. 26 with Casanova Hunt’s very popular Hunter Pace event at Acorn Hill Farm. Thornton Hill Fort Valley’s pace event the following Sunday is the second on the circuit.

The Hunter Pace courses wend their way across the Thornton Hill racecourse and into the very countryside hunted by the THFVH hounds. The divisions – Hilltoppers, First Flight Optimum Time (juniors and seniors), and First Flight Fast Time (seniors only) – cater to all levels. Contestants go out in pairs mounted on qualified field hunters and they range from tots on tiny ponies to vintage “silver foxes” to newcomers and “greenie” horses and riders.

Each pair sets off at clocked intervals over a flagged course, which has patrol judges to make sure that everyone follows the prescribed route. It’s great fun to do and allows enthusiasts from other hunts to experience unfamiliar country. Rosettes are awarded to several places; competitors pick up their year-end awards at a big party at Great Meadow in early June.

Thornton Hill Fort Valley extends a cordial invitation for you to celebrate the ’chasing rites of spring. Come on out and enjoy the action, excitement, scenic views, and a very congenial community of rural and sporting enthusiasts.

Race info

Lots of information can be found on CentralEntryOffice.com – the full calendar with ’chasing every weekend into early May, overnights (list of entries), results and standings, photos, plus contact numbers for each hunt so you can reserve a parking space for your tailgate party or even enter the hunter pace.

Thornton Hill Fort Valley Point-to-point is Saturday, March 3 at the Thornton Hill Racecourse – about two miles south of Sperryville on U.S. 522. The THFVH Hunter Pace begins at 1 on Sunday.

For more information and reserved parking: 540-987-8338 or info@thorntonhillraces.com, or visit thorntonhillraces.com.

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