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The Irish Hunter: An Exceptional Horse Across Any Country

The Irish Hunter.small.mullinsThe Irish Hunter by Noel Mullins, 2015, Forewords by Professor Patrick Wall, Chairman of Horse Sport Ireland and Hugh Leonard, Chairman of The Traditional Irish Horse Association, color, 208 pages, CaseboundThe Irish Hunter: An Exceptional Horse Across Any Country includes a portfolio of some five hundred photographic images taken at more than sixty hunts by photo/journalist Noel Mullins in his travels in Ireland and abroad over the last twenty years. More than two hundred of the images illustrate the exceptional jumping ability of this marvellous horse tackling a wide variety of natural cross country obstacles such as stone walls, ditches, hedges, streams, and double banks as well as man-made obstacles such as gates, concrete railings, metal barriers, wire, pallets, and even the bed post and church pew that one might occasionally come across hunting in the Irish countryside!

In hunting fields in North America, Mullins has photographed the Irish Hunter out with the Green Spring Valley, Genesee Valley, Orange County, Mr Stewart's Cheshire, Lowcountry, and Palm Beach Hounds.

In his Introduction the author looks at how horses originated in Ireland from wild horses 28,000 years ago to domesticated horses circa 2,400 BC, and some of the various breeds that graced the Irish countryside since, such as the Irish Hobby, the Garraun, Donegal, Cushendall, Rathlin, and the Kerry Bog Pony. Then there’s the Irish Draught Horse, the Connemara Pony and the Thoroughbred, whose offspring give rise to what we know today as the Irish Hunter, also known as the Irish Draught Cross and the Irish Sport Horse.

Jimmy Day Saddles Two Hurdle Winners at Blue Ridge

brh16.prima facie.smithwick.murphy.leesMaiden Hurdle winner Prima Facie and rider Jeff Murphy (center) keep in touch with the field the first time around. / Douglas Lees photo

March 12, 2016 saw the sixty-seventh running of the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point Races going off on the hunt’s normally scheduled weekend for the first time in four years, the three previous race meetings having been postponed because of winter weather conditions. With the weather and the footing close to ideal for horses and spectators alike, the meet, usually the third in the series, also served as the kick-off for the 2016 Virginia point-to-point season.

Jimmy Day-trained entries won two of the three hurdle races: Amateur/Novice Rider with Bruce Smart’s Dai Bando and the Open Hurdle with Daybreak Stables’ Manacor. In the Maiden Hurdle Race, Day's horse, Zol Zayne had to settle for second place, as he did last year in the same race. The Maiden Hurdle was won by Celtic Venture Stable’s Prima Facie, trained by Eve Smithwick, MFH and huntsman of the Snickersville Hounds (VA). Jeff Murphy held Prima Facie to the pace he wanted and patiently stalked the leader much as he rode the same race last year on winner Bedizen. Murphy took the lead from Hardly Patient on the final turn, accelerated to the last fence, and flew it cleanly for a convincing win.

Snow Falls, Mud Flies at Warrenton Point-to-Point

warrenton16.nov rider flat.leesDylan McDonagh displays evidence of Last Farewell's stretch battle with Plated in the Novice Rider Flat Race -- muddied but victorious. / Douglas Lees photoHeavy flakes of snow mixed with rain saturated the Airlie Racecourse throughout most of the day at the Warrenton Point-to-Point, Saturday, March 19, 2016.

Doug Fout-trained horses won three of the nine races on the card: Open Hurdle and Maiden Hurdle, with Kieran Norris in the irons for both, and the Novice Rider Flat Race with Dylan McDonagh aboard. In last year’s final standings in Virginia, Fout was Leading Trainer and Norris was Leading Rider.

warrenton16.am nov hurdle.leesErin Swope finished clean and bright by winning wire to wire on Slaney Rock in the Amateur/Novice Rider Hurdle. / Douglas Lees photoIn the Amateur/Novice Rider Hurdle, Erin Swope crossed the wire first, just as she did at Blue Ridge the week before, but this time she went to the winner’s circle. Swope—owner, rider, and trainer of Irish-bred Slaney Rock—had lost a weight from her pad during her race at Blue Ridge and had to be disqualified.

This year over hurdles and last year on the flat, her racing strategy has been consistent: explode to the front at the drop of the flag, gain a commanding lead, and win—wire to wire. It was also a good strategy for staying clean this sloppy day!

Hunt Point-to-Points Are a Cherished Tradition

Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Tradition: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.

piedmont14.open timberUp close and personal at the 2014 Piedmont Point-to-Point  /   Douglas Lees photo

Few events embody more fully the combination of nostalgia and tradition as does a day of point-to-point racing sponsored by the local foxhunting club. These races are a living link back to the days when fast horses flew over open country while the local folks cheered them on.

The running of the first hunt point-to-point is believed to have been hosted by the Warrenton Hunt (VA) on March 24, 1934. This was a time when Lowell Thomas narrated Movietone newsreels, which often featured updates on horse racing to the delight of a national audience. On that March day in ’34, an unassuming yearling colt, who would soon capture the imagination of the entire country, was frolicking in his pasture in Lexington, Kentucky. His name was Seabiscuit.

Dakota Slew Owns Piedmont's Timber Course

piedmont16.opentimber.portrait.leesAt the finish Dakota Slew (Mark Beecher up in solid blue cap) holds off Drift Society (Connor Hankin) for a third consecutive Open Timber win at Piedmont. /  Douglas Lees photo

The Open Timber course at Piedmont on Saturday, March 26th, was a happy hunting ground once again for Dakota Slew. Ridden this year by Mark Beecher, the brown gelding captured his third Open Timber Race in as many years over the Piedmont course for owner Magalen Bryant who took home the Rokeby Bowl yet again. He moved patiently up to first by the last fence and held off a hard challenge by Drift Society in the stretch to win by a neck. The Richard Valentine-trained Dakota Slew was the Leading Timber Horse in Virginia in 2015.

Trainer Neil Morris Goes Three for Five at Orange County

och16.nov timberNovice Timber (l-r): Zanclus (Kieran Norris) first, Le Chevalier (Mark Beecher) second / Douglas Lees photo

Trainer Neil Morris made the best of his home turf advantage by saddling three winners on the five-race card at the Orange County Point-to-Point on Sunday, April 3, 2016.

In Novice Timber, the only race over fences, Morris-trained Zanclus won his second timber race in just two Virginia starts this season, both under Kieran Norris. His earlier win was at Blue Ridge. Le Chevalier, ridden by Mark Beecher, winner of the Novice Timber at Warrenton two weeks earlier, mounted a strong challenge in the stretch, but Zanclus prevailed at the wire by a neck.