Virginia Steeplechase Association

Steeplechasing's Rich History
 

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American steeplechasing traces it's lineage to England and Ireland, but owes it's life to nine men from New York.

August Belmont, H. DeCourcy Forbes, Samuel S. Howland, James O. Green, Frederick Gebhard, A.J. Cassatt, Foxhall P. Keene, John G. Follansbee and Frederick H. Prince founded the National Steeplechase Association. The purpose of the organization, according to the original charter dated February 15, 1895, have changed little.

Those men created an association to keep records; govern, promote and hold races; advance steeplechasing throughout the United States and license individuals and race meetings.

Racing itself spawned from the foxhunting field had occurred earlier, but never under such sanction. Meets took place on Long Island and in northern New Jersey before spreading to the south to the Carolinas and Tennessee.

In Europe, racing started much earlier. The first recorded steeplechase occurred in 1752 in County Cork, Ireland. A horseman named O'Callaghan and Edmund Blake engaged in a match race, covering about 4 1/2 miles from Buttevant Church to St Mary's in Doneraile. Church steeples were the most prominent, and tallest, landmarks on the landscape. The sport took its name this simple "chase to the steeple." History did not record the winner of the O'Callaghan-Blake race.

Cross-country match races spread to England, where the first reported race involving more that two horses occurred in 1792. Steeplechasing then migrated to established race courses.

Though pointing out the first U.S. steeplechase is a difficult assignment, several of the oldest and most prestigious races are still run. The Maryland Hunt Cup, raced over tall post-and-rail fences, celebrated it 100th anniversary in 1994. The American Grand National, run at Far Hills, N.J., began in 1899. The National Hunt Cup in Radnor Pa. dates to 1909.

The above-mentioned men could never have guessed at the future of their sport. Steeplechasing occurs in 12 states, offers $4 million in total purses, is seen by millions of people, includes the best horses and horsemen thoroughbred racing has to offer and each year raises millions of dollars for charity.

The association today, located in Fair Hill, MD, includes 1,200 dues-paying members, plus a 15-member Board of Directors and a seven-person staff.

Racing occurs March through November and attracted an estimated one million fans last year.


 

 


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