About the Event – History
The Middleburg Spring Races has a lively and fascinating history. Daniel Cox Sands, the famous Middleburg sportsman who for four decades was Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) of the Middleburg Hunt, organized the first Middleburg race meet in 1911.
Sands described the first meet to author Kitty Slater, which she relates in her book, “Hunt Country of America” (Cornwall Books, 1967).
“It was planned primarily for the entertainment of the farmers, over whose land we hunted and who sometimes were not easy to pacify when galloping hooves crushed crops in the ground or when foxes raided their chicken yards,” said Sands to Slater.
Whole families came from miles around – on horseback, in buckboards, spring wagons, and buggies, and some drove tandems. Everybody brought picnic baskets, and you never saw so much fried chicken in your life.”
By the next year the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association had sanctioned the Middleburg Race Meet, a full 11 years before the first running of the Warrenton Gold Cup (the Middleburg Hunt Cup, however, was not organized until 1921).Steeplechasing continued annually until World War I; after a hiatus during the war years, it resumed in 1921 with the Middleburg Hunt Cup and the Farmers race held on the estates of Sands and his neighbor, William F. Hitt.
Slater says in her book that by the 1930s, the Middleburg Race Meet was prestigious indeed, with 11 races listed in 1933 on its first two-day card. The year before, in 1932, the famous Glenwood Park was built with provisions for timber, brush, hurdle and flat races.
“The thousands of race goers coming to Middleburg April 16 for the 12th running of the Middleburg Hunt Race Meet will find a racing park declared by horsemen who have viewed it to be the most elaborate and unique of its kind in America,” writes a Fauquier-Democrat newspaper reported on April 9, 1932. “Since the running of the 1931 event, in which Sea Soldier flashed past the judges stand a winner, money has been spent lavishly in improvements to the course.”
The improvements included a flat turf track, a new paddock and saddling stalls constructed near the tiers of boxes and grandstands. “The new course will be a real test to a jumper and hunter as one of the jumps is so constructed that the horses must clear a flowing stream of water, dammed up to give it the proper width. A Liverpool and open ditch jumps have also been provided,” state the Nov. 4, 1936 Fauquier-Democrat – “approximately 2,000 turf folk representing high society of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Virginia.” The racing conditions, however, were dismal; ten scratched due to hard, bumpy conditions. Jim Ryan, Paul Mellon’s trainer, rode Drinmore Land to victory over William Ewing’s Kilmalogyue by 20 lengths, with the only other starter, Grown-Up, 50 lengths behind.
Another race in 1940 was just plain odd. “The feature event of the Middleburg Race Meet Saturday, the Glenwood National Steeplechase, ended in confusion as one horse in the three-horse race ran off course, one was pulled up and a third was claimed to have finished the wrong course,” reports the Nov. 13, 1940 Democrat.
Racing continued throughout the decades under the tutelage of Daniel Sands. Such notables as President John F. Kennedy even took in a race; the president breezed in and out of the paddock so fast that few even noticed him. His wife, the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, was a race-goer regular.
But Daniel Sands was the force behind the race meet. He was appropriately known as “Mr. Middleburg” for his innumerable contributions; he was M.F.H. of the Middleburg Hunt for almost 40 years, and also organizer and first president of the American Foxhound Association, which he founded in 1912.
“Dan Sands was the moving spirit down through the decades of the Middleburg Hunt Racing Association and chaired the race committee from the time of its origin until his death in 1963,” writes Slater.
When Daniel Sands died in 1963, he designated two trustees to oversee the 112.2 acres known as Glenwood Park: James B. Skinner and S.H. Rogers Fred. Today the two trustees are Mr. David Quanbeck and Mr. F. Turner Reuter, Jr. But much of the actual work falls on the shoulders of dedicated volunteers who spend time, money and energy on making the spring and fall races go.
Rogers Fred cared for Glenwood Park as though it were his own, farming cattle on the property and leading them all out a week before the race meet. Upon his death, race meet organizers inherited his daunting task – to keep the turf hole-free, with a good base that might require irrigation one year, drying out the next.
The fences needed to be maintained. Local volunteers raised money to tear up the old, rotted timber fences and to put in drainfields. New timber fences were erected, standing proudly at 3’9″ as compared to the old 3′ or 3’3″ ones.
A great coup for the Middleburg Spring Races was securing the Temple Gwathmey, a race that originally ran in Rolling Rock, Pa., then in Belmont. NY. This $50,000 hurdle contest, a graded stakes race, has been held at Glenwood Park since 1990, and it lures the best hurdle horses in the country to Mr. Sands’ course.
Then there are the newly constructed Alfred Hunt Steeplechase fences, inspired by those found at New Zealand race meets. Large coops backed with brush and ditches in front of yews make up some of this fanciful course, designed by Paul Fout with the help of Tommy Beach, a local architect.
Fout explained that Alfred Hunt was Master of Rolling Rock Hunt, and when he died, his brother Tod wanted to do something in his memory. A unique race course, neither timber nor hurdle, seemed to fit the bill.
“The base is 3’6″, and behind that are planted yews,” explained Fout about one of the fences. In New Zealand, he explained, horses brush through bamboo; here the yews provide a cover that is sturdy but still brush-throughable. Also on course is a water jump; then a sturdy brush fence preceded by a ditch.
Another source of inspirations for the Alfred Hunt fences came from Po, France. “There is every type fence there: ditches, banks, brush, timber – all sorts,” said Fout.
Every fall a horse trials for intermediate and preliminary divisions is run; the fences run the gamut, from banks and water-jumps to coops, hurdles, post-and-rail to huge logs.
Safety is also paramount at Middleburg. All the top rails of the timber fences break when hit, unlike the old locust rails of days past. “There used to be a lot of blind ditches; the wood would rot, and you’d have a ditch. We found all those and tiled over them, and the drains all work well,” said Fout.
So the course has never been better. Thanks to the corps of volunteers and the unrelenting energy of past General Manager Paul Fout, the Middleburg Spring Races promise to be better than ever.