In Sperryville, they’re off!

Inaugural Thornton Hill Fort Valley Point-to-Point turns into a gorgeous day

BAZOO and Chris Read in flight and en route to winning the Novice Timber for owner/trainer Larry Levy.Lauren Giannini
BAZOO and Chris Read in flight and en route to winning the Novice Timber for owner/trainer Larry Levy.

Journal entry for the weekend of March 3-4: Wow – what a fun weekend! Just what the doctor ordered: fabulous day to celebrate the rural rites of spring, parties on the hillside and those gorgeous thoroughbreds running and jumping . . .

To be sure, attendance and entries for the Thornton Hill Fort Valley races were affected by key variables, such as the rising costs of fuel, the long trek to Sperryville and Mother Nature’s barometric hissy fits, especially all the rain that dampened everyone’s TGIF spirits. Fortunately, the precipitation moved on by first light so that Saturday turned gorgeous, the temperature rising to nearly 60.

Journal: What made the day even nicer is that the THFVH folks made you feel right at home. From the moment you pulled up to the gate, a small welcoming committee that included joint-master Jim Kincheloe bustled to get you headed in the right direction: horsemen, this way; reserved parking, that way; general admission, over yonder. They were ready to answer questions and very friendly.

As for steeplechase action, several races started only two or three horses, one race had no finishers (one pulled up, two disqualified for going off course), and two races weren’t run due to race-day scratches. Still, it was a good day of racing.

BIG BOY, the Gone Away Hound Race winner, and his owner Rogers Gibson, are flanked by (from left) Beth and Erwin Opitz, Elida Optiz and German exchange student Hannah Bever.Lauren Giannini
BIG BOY, the Gone Away Hound Race winner, and his owner Rogers Gibson, are flanked by (from left) Beth and Erwin Opitz, Elida Optiz and German exchange student Hannah Bever.

Owner/trainer Larry Levy had two first-time starters in the Novice Timber, which split. Patriotic Passion finished fourth in the first division, and in the second, Bazoo rallied with a great stretch run to win by a little over one length.

“When you have someone like Chris Read riding them, it makes a big difference,” said Levy, an enthusiast whose farm is a favorite meeting place for Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds. “Patriotic Passion had a bit of congestion, and Chris let him ease on around for the experience – he’s fine now. Bazoo did great to win the first time out. We wanted to see what we had. These horses had never run before, and it was a really nice surprise how well they did. I don’t have a goal yet for them. We’re going to think about it a little. Chris has a lot of rides, but it would be nice if I could find a spot where he can ride them again. The horses won’t run for another two or three weeks.”

Levy’s exercise rider, Leta Stalnaker, equestrian and foxhunter whose fiance cattle farmer also makes great hay, raved about the horses’ athletic ability and complimented their owner: “Larry is a wonderful boss and horseman and he really cares about his horses. He addresses every detail of their well-being. They just started racing, so we’ll give them a break and work on their conditioning and stamina.”

The Carle family of Amissville made it an official and social affair. Jake, ex-master/huntsman at Keswick, lined up the officials, helping in various capacities all day, and started the hound race. His wife Patricia served as paddock judge. Sarah, Jake’s daughter, flew in from Texas for a long weekend in her favorite element.

“I had a blast, being home for this,” said Sarah. “Although entries were limited, spirits were high, and spectators were brave about supporting the first official races of the spring season. What had promised to be a grim day turned out absolutely gorgeous. It was a very happy gathering in Sperryville.”

Beth and Erwin Opitz of Flint Hill, where they base Opitz Construction, are honorary whippers-in who assist huntsman Billy Dodson with the TVFVH hounds. They sponsored the Gone Away Hound Race, a traditional finale. Brett Jackson, joint master THFVH, galloped away, dragging the bag soaked with anise to lay the scent course for about 14 hounds. The wind had picked up, scattering the scent, and hounds ran every which way. The winner was the only foxhound to cross the finish line, Big Boy, owned by Rogers Gibson of Keswick.

Sunday’s Hunter Pace event proved great fun, especially riding over courses designed by hunt members Sally Cunningham and Nancy Dillon. The hospitality tent on the hill provided comfort and sustenance throughout the blustery afternoon.

Thornton Hill Fort Valley’s Kat Gray (whipper-in) and Patty Reiff won the adult optimum time over fences, with David Massie, TVFVH, and Kristi Wellington, Rappahannock Hunt, taking second place. But in the series points standings, Jeanie McNear, Rappahannock and Old Dominion Hounds, and Susanna McNear, Old Dominion, had pre-entered, earning second place points toward the series championship.

Jeff LeHew and Brett Jackson, masters of Thornton Hill Fort Valley, who co-chaired the races, echoed each other’s thoughts, summing up the weekend: “We were pleased to hold the first races of the spring season and blessed by great weather. All things considered, we had a good number of horses and spectators. Our thanks to everyone for coming out and supporting the event, including Bill Fletcher who lets us hold the races at his Thornton Hill Farm.”

THE VIEW from the paddock early in the day as spectators set up their tailgate parties on the hill.Lauren Giannini
THE VIEW from the paddock early in the day as spectators set up their tailgate parties on the hill.
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