EAST MARLBOROUGH — On Sunday, April 2, the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point celebrates its 75th year.
Brandywine Red Clay Alliance’s Myrick Conservation Center on Route 842, approximately six miles west of West Chester and three miles east of Unionville, will host the event, which for local families and horse racing fans alike, signals a great opportunity to get outdoors and celebrate spring. Radnor Hunt is the presenting sponsor. Additional sponsors include: Capital & Security Management Inc., James A. Cochrane Inc.-Realtor, J. Clifton Edgar, Dr. & Mrs. Roy Feldman, J. Gallagher Septic and Wastewater Control Inc., Helen Groves, Wes & Mary Hardin, The Herr Family, Hickory House Catering, Landhope Farms, Michael & Anne Moran, Jim & Diana Perella, Deborah F. Robinson, Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, Dr. & Mrs. Donald J. Rosato, Mr. & Mrs. John Swayne, Sycamore Racing and Margot Mohr Teeter-Remax.
As the oldest race of its kind in the Delaware Valley, part of what makes the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point races so special is its illustrious history. Fortunately, in celebration of the 50 year milestone in 1992, George Osborne thoroughly researched and preserved this history in a book, “The Birth and Growth of the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point.”
The first race came about as a challenge in 1939 at a dinner party at which the guests were all members of one of two local foxhunts — the Brandywine Hounds and West Chester Hunt. One of the gentlemen claimed that he had the best foxhunting horse and of course, others disagreed believing their own mount to be superior. It was agreed that a point-to-point race across open hunting country would determine the best horse.
Although the terms point-to-point and steeplechase are often used interchangeably, point-to- point is derived from the various “points” riders had to round along their route, such as “Smith’s silo” and “the old bell tower”. Steeplechase racing, which gave birth to point-to-point racing, began in 18th century Ireland when the route of cross country horse races was from church steeple to church steeple.
Six riders and their mounts competed in the first race, starting and finishing at Joe C. Murtagh’s Goat Glen Farm, which was located across the street from what is now West Chester University’s South Campus. The other points, making it an approximately 6-mile race, were not disclosed to the riders until the day of the race. As the friendly competition was enjoyed by all, following the race, at another party, a committee was formed, a date in late March was selected, and the race was officially named the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point.
Part of the allure of Brandywine Hills is the long time participation and support of many local families. An incredible scrapbook compiled by Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point committee member Josie Cornwall Oas Parman details the race’s history, its format and location changes, and the families that have had ties to this race from the beginning. Take Parman herself. Her uncle, Dan Cornwell, competed in the very first challenge race in 1939, finishing second. Her father, Jack Cornwell, won the race in 1942. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, her first husband, Frank Oas, served as chairman of the racing committee and was a keen competitor in the races as was her brother, Moses Cornwell. In 1959, Parman herself bested 17 horses and riders to win the old fashion race. It’s only natural that some years later, daughter Betsey Oas Mehl also competed in the old fashion race.
As well, Carl J. “Bunny” Meister, the current chairman of the point-to-point, has a long family history with the event. Parman’s scrapbook includes a photo of Meister’s first wife, Betty Baldwin, holding several silver trophies from the 1954 running, Meister himself claimed several victories decades ago. Then, some years later, the couples’ sons, Billy and Jay, got their start in the pony races at Brandywine Hills and continued winning in the big races both as jockeys and trainers. A third generation continued the winning family legacy as Jay’s daughter; Emma won the large pony race in 2013.
While over the years the location of the races has changed several times as has the race card, but the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point has always remained unpretentious and family-oriented.
There aren’t big purses to win, but the competition is keen. “It’s all for the glory,” Meister says. “Having your name engraved on a challenge trophy is the incentive.”
This year, the gates open at 11:00 a.m. with the children’s pony races kicking off the action at 12:30 p.m. Following are five timber races– ladies, novice, heavyweight, open and foxhunter – each run over a course of 17 solidly built jumps approximately three miles in length.
A raffle offering an array of incredible prizes is always a highlight of the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point. Tickets are just $10 and winners need not be present to win. Winners are drawn throughout the day for prizes ranging from original artwork to dining gift certificates.
Brandywine Hills is also known for its kids’ activities including stick pony races, Indian lore tent, face painting, photo booth and more.
Admission is by the carload, ranging from just $20 to $150 for premium spots. Sponsorships are available starting at just $350. See www.brandywineredclay.org or call 610-793-1090 for more information or to purchase parking passes and/or raffle tickets in advance.
Over the past decade, the popular race day has raised over $200,000 for the Brandywine Valley Association and its programs. Brandywine Valley Association and Red Clay Valley Association merged as of June 30, 2015 to form Brandywine Red Clay Alliance. With over 70 years of experience, the association will continue to reach out for clean-up volunteers, undertake improvements in both watersheds, turn more red streams blue, advoc