The Palm Beach Steeplechase was declared a huge success by professional and equestrian aficionados. In its inaugural running, the Steeplechase marked the beginning of the winter equestrian circuit with a crowd estimated at 4,000. In addition to the five races with total prize money of $180,000, the event featured skydivers landing in the infield with a 1,000 square-foot American flag, terrier races, a children’s fair, the release of three dozen doves, gourmet food by Equestrian Club by Tavern on the Green, a wine festival and beer tent. The course was the same facility where the late Princess Diana watched her husband, Prince Charles, play polo two decades ago. The South Florida equestrian circuit is in full swing and the Palm Beach Steeplechase is the perfect start to a spectacular season.
The organizers, Equestrian Sports Productions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wellington Equestrian Partners is composed of a group of individuals dedicated to creating excellence in horse sports. WEP created ESP to bring together the best-experienced and most talented individuals to manage horse shows, and produce spectacular equestrian events providing the highest levels of facilities and services to fulfill WEP’s goal of building the top equestrian showcase in Wellington, FL. This partnership includes some of America’s most prominent equestrian families who are committed to developing a top-level equestrian community in Wellington and providing harmony between equestrian and non-equestrian interests in and around the horse show grounds, The Palm Beach Equestrian Center.
The Steeplechase is well known for the diversity of attire its guests wear. Men wore khakis, blazers, jeans and polo shirts, while the ladies attended in beautiful sundresses, jeans, and of course, hats. The Steeplechase is a traditional form of horse racing—mainly conducted in the United Kingdom, United States, France and Ireland—and derives its name from earlier races in which orientation of the course was a church steeple, jumping fences and ditches and generally traversing intervening obstacles in the countryside. The new Palm Beach course measures one mile running clockwise, and the races are run at a distance of 2.25 miles. Even though the term originated in Ireland, steeplechase is not used there or in the UK. The formal code is National Hunt Racing. The most famous of these races is the Grand National run annually in Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool since 1837.
Steeple chasing occurs in 12 states in the U.S., offers $4 million in total purses is seen by millions of people and includes the best horses and horsemen. Each year this activity raises millions of dollars for charity while attracting an estimated one million fans. The feature race at Palm Beach is a $100,000 Grade 1 Novice Hurdle that decides the year-end novice championship. On the horseman side the very top owners, trainers and riders that competed in Wellington in the season finale.
Horses were brought from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Before the event, Mark Bellissimo, Palm Beach Steeplechase chairman commented, “The steeplechase will be a fun family event that should attract all types of spectators from the community and beyond.” And so it was. Among the enthusiastic crowd, there were thousands of devoted fans as well as new aficionados who had never attended an equestrian event.
Horse sports are part of Old and New World traditions. The horse is the noblest of beasts and our admiration for this fine animal continues to grow. The inaugural Palm Beach Steeplechase demonstrated that there is a great need and interest in our communities for this kind of event. Those who partake in the equestrian lifestyle are thrilled. Those just discovering the nobility of a horse are looking forward to next year’s race to see the horses on the track.