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The 75th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races promises not just horses but terrier races, stick horse races--and even a tailgating contest

 And they're off: In Orange, don't miss this timeless display of equestrian skill--and don't forget the Jack Russells, either.
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Date published: 11/5/2009


Looking across the English countryside, fox hunters in red jackets make a bet.

"I'll race you," one says.

"To where?" the other asks, his horse stamping anxiously.

"How about the church over there? The one with the tall steeple?"

And thus steeplechase racing was born. At least, that's how the story goes.

"It's a very well-loved event," Martha Strawther, executive director of the Montpelier Steeplechase and Equestrian Foundation, said.

This year marks the 75th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races, an event where typically 15,000 people show up to experience traditional steeplechase racing on the grounds of Montpelier.

"It's a fun, family day in the country," Strawther said.

The duPont family, which owned the Madison estate until 1983, started the Montpelier Hunt races in 1934. Marion duPont Scott and her brother, William duPont Jr., decided to open up the estate to the public for one day for a free horse race.

Since the original race, the event has grown to encompass more than the steeplechase races themselves.

Before the horse racing starts, there will be a Jack Russell terrier race and even a stick horse race for kids.

But the main event remains the horses.

The Montpelier Hunt Races, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz of Fredericksburg, always comprises seven races. This year, the first race starts at 12:30 p.m. and the final race starts at 4:30 p.m. The races are staged 40 minutes apart so visitors have a chance to experience all the other activities going on that day.

There will be a display of antique cars from various decades, vendors and dog agility demonstrations.

And, the Montpelier Hunt Races wouldn't be complete without an array of tailgating food.

This year, Chef Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington will be the guest judge of the tailgating contest.

One of the winners of that contest will get a dinner and a night at the Inn at Little Washington, and another will get a weekend at the Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville.

Before or during the race, raffle tickets will be available for a Rolex watch the foundation is raffling off.

Between proceeds from the raffle and tickets, the Montpelier Steeplechase and Equestrian Foundation brings around $40,000 to Montpelier every year.

Tickets are available in Fredericksburg at the Made in Virginia Store and the Virginia Community Bank.

According to Strawther, the Montpelier Hunt Races is a must-see community event.

"In Orange, people say, 'You might miss Christmas but you won't miss the horse races.' It's a homecoming," Strawther said.

Brynn Boyer: 540/374-5000, ext. 5779
Email: bboyer@freelancestar.com

What: 75th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races When: Saturday, Nov. 7; activities start at 10:30 a.m.; first race at 12:30 p.m. Where: James Madison's Montpelier Admission: $15 general admission; $20 general parking passes; tent packages available. Info: 540/672-0027; montpelierraces.org