On Sunday, April 17th, the second annual Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Races kicked off the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point card at historic Oatlands Plantation, near Leesburg, Virginia. Run under picture-perfect weather before a huge and enthusiastic crowd, this year's installment was the second of three side saddle contests in the United States in 2016. Fort Henry (IRE), the entry of owner/trainer Stephanie Boyer, was again piloted to a thrilling victory by Susan Oakes of Ireland.
Nearly all race riders at Oatlands are active foxhunters, adding an authentic flavor to the speed and pageantry of the event.
Side saddle race participants gather for awards at beautiful Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg. Photo by Middleburg Photo.
Oakes' resume, both aside and astride, is impressive, and the side saddle community is thrilled to have her competing here in the States. She is past Master of Grallagh Harriers in her homeland, and the world's leading side saddle jockey. She won the first "Dianas of the Chase" side saddle race in England, holds the current world record for jumping side saddle at 6'8", and the astride Irish ladies' puissance record, among many other accolades. She is delighted to be able to combine visiting the United States with side saddle racing, and is providing clinics during her time here as well.
Donna Rogers, MFH, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt, who welcomed the aside divisions at the point to point, and Susan Oakes. Photo by lizcallar.com
Eight horses tackled the two-mile course over Oatlands' sprawling irregular oval, which included six jumping efforts of varying types. Fort Henry, an experienced timber horse, set the pace and pulled away the second time around, coming home officially "as his rider pleased." Owner/trainer Stephanie Boyer has whipped in on "Henry," and last season Ivan Dowling, huntsman at Cheshire (PA), hunted hounds off of him. He reportedly adjusted to the side saddle well under Oakes, and following their March victory in the Mrs. Miles B. Valentine Memorial Side Saddle Race at the Cheshire Point to Point, the pair look to sweep the series with a victory in the final race in Kentucky at High Hope Steeplechase on May 22nd [see our separate story about Oakes and Cheshire huntsman Ivan Dowling racing in Ireland].
Fort Henry (IRE), Susan Oakes up, well over the last on their way to victory. Martha Drum photo.
Runner-up Devon Zebrovious, of Middleburg, finished strongly on Cherry Blossom Farm LLC's King of Hearts, trained by George Kuk, to win a unique trophy: an antique hunt whip, custom-crafted and engraved for this event. Oakes generously donated this special award and brought it from Ireland to recognize the second-place finisher who is also a member of a recognized American hunt.
Devon Zebrovious and King of Hearts, right, finished second and top American entry. Photo by Middleburg Photo.
For third place, Tango, owned and ridden by Maureen Britell and trained by Pam Wooley, dueled in the stretch after the final fence to nip the game Patrick, ridden and trained by Sarah O'Halloran and owned by Dr. and Mrs. Peter O'Halloran. Patrick had been on the pace from the start, despite his non-Jockey Club breeding.
Patrick and Sarah O'Halloran have their eyes on the finish line. Martha Drum photo.
The remaining finishers included, in order of finish, Good Friday Wyatt, ridden by Amber Asbell-Jackson, owned and trained by Betty Alexander; Little Lady, ridden, owned, and trained by Amy Magee; Always Elegant, ridden by Dillyn Ketterman Millnick, owned by Ketterman's Jewelers, and trained by Jackie Ketterman McClintic; and Waffles, ridden, owned, and trained by Christina Mulqueen.
Speed and style were on display. Tango, ridden by Maureen Britell. Photo by lizcallar.com.
In the interest of promoting this event and side saddle racing in general, these entries were invited to participate based on, among other requirements, their experience riding aside, many in the hunt field. For this reason, a number of entries were non-Thoroughbreds, and the final finishers were spread well back from the winners. However, the entire crowd cheered on every finisher, their encouragement growing louder and louder as the final riders safely brought their horses home.
Nearly all entries were proven foxhunters. Good Night Wyatt with Amber Asbell-Jackson. Photo by lizcallar.com.
In the Flat Division, racing fate played a role just as it does in any other contest - following an inquiry, two of the top three finishers were disqualified due to missing beacons and therefore going off course. The one-mile race on the turf, nonetheless, was a thrilling exhibition and another opportunity to demonstrate the athleticism and competitive spirit of the jockeys.
Flat Division victor, Figure It Out, Cathi Groves up. Photo by Valerie Durbon Photography, valeriedurbonphotography.com.
The official results were, in order of finish: Figure It Out, ridden by Cathi Groves, owned and trained by Christina Mulqueen; Brum Brum Boy, ridden by Mary Musheno, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Stephen K. Grove, trained by Cathi M. Grove; Zorro, ridden, owned, and trained by Wendy Andrews; Duke, ridden, owned, and trained by Pam Wooley; Bartender, ridden by Amy Wodaski, owned by Annmari Ingersoll, trained by Christina Mulqueen; off course - Noble, ridden by Robin Somers-Strom, owned and trained by Mr. & Mrs. Eric Strom, and Reddington, ridden, owned, and trained by Bernadette Boland.
A charming participant in the day's celebration was Miss Hayley Rees, who attended the races aside on her pony, Galaxy, in full hunt kit. She follows hounds with her grandmother and proudly posed with the competitors wearing her official Race Rider ribbon.
Miss Hayley Rees and Galaxy. Martha Drum photo.
Additional awards included the following: Best Turned Out, Jumping Division, Sarah O'Halloran; Flat Division, Bernadette Boland. Fashionably Late (recognizing determined, if not speediest, participation) was Christina Mulqueen, who also received the Sportsmanship Award. Youngest Entered was Bernadette Boland.
Beautiful form over the rail fence. Christina Mulqueen and Waffles. Photo by Valerie Durbon Photography, valeriedurbonphotography.com.
The event was enthusiastically supported by the local community. Tri County Feed gave every entry jute gift totes which included gift cards, scarves, and lots of goodies. Greenhill Winery & Vineyard sponsored ribbons and winners' coolers. Middy n Me sponsored the Best Turned Out awards and gave smaller certificates to all.
Co-organizer Maggie Johnston, outrider at the races, with Loudoun Fairfax Hunt member, Bob Best. Photo by Middleburg Photo.
In addition to merry tailgaters in their spring finery, many local families picnicked in the infield. Loudoun Fairfax huntsman, Andy Bozdan, paraded hounds before the races, and hunt members outrode and graciously answered questions from the crowd, allowing their horses to be patted and photographed by spectators. Maggie Johnston, who grew up just a few miles from Oatlands and recalls playing in the gardens as a child, was thrilled to speak with attendees from the community and explain details of hunting, racing, and riding aside.
Little Lady with Amy Magee. Photo by Middleburg Photo.
Organized by Maggie Johnston and Devon Zebrovious, the Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Race's inaugural running last year was the first side saddle-only race ever held in the United States. The entries were carefully selected with an eye toward running a sporting, but safe, event, and training opportunities were provided beforehand. The ladies exchanged their top hats for helmets and added protective vests, but otherwise wore the traditional hunt kit on their beautifully turned out and conditioned horses.
Devon Zebrovious with her second-place award, a custom-created hunt whip, given by Susan Oakes, to recognize the highest placed finisher (aside from first) who is also a member of a recognized American hunt. Diane Cicak photo.
The final race in the burgeoning series takes place at the High Hope Ladies Side Saddle Race on May 22nd in Lexington, Kentucky. The National Sporting Library and Museum, Middleburg, Virginia, will host a special event on August 13th for these fantastic athletes. The high point side saddle race rider will receive a perpetual trophy, and the day will include a round table discussion of women in racing’s past, present and future.