Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point navigates new normal for this Saturday’s races
Old Dominion Hounds joint-master Debbie Welch says she hates the reason for the local club's point-to-point being postponed from their traditional April date. But she's thrilled at the fallout from the rescheduled meet on Sept. 12 — Old Dominion leads the way for the National Steeplechase Association fall race season.
Welch and her joint-master Kim Poe say they’re looking forward to the best meet ever offered by the 96-year-old club.
The Old Dominion point-to-point is one of the biggest events in Rappahannock County, an annual rite of spring usually attracting some 10,000 to the Ben Venue racecourse between Flint Hill and Amissville.
There won’t be that many this year, Welch said, with their gate limited to 1,000 according to Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening.
But horsemen are excited at the race opportunity, she added, with outstanding entries in all nine carded races on the Saturday program.
“We've already heard from some horsemen," said race chairman Matt Hatcher, himself a regular in the owner-rider timber, foxhunters timber and owner-rider hurdle divisions on the Virginia Point-to-Point Foundation spring circuit. "I know a lot of trainers and riders call (Ben Venue) one best on the entire circuit."
NSA president Al Griffin, race secretary Bill Gallo and Virginia Point-to-Point Foundation president Don Yovanovich helped ODH and the Blue Ridge Hunt – they run a meet Sept. 19 – tweak conditions to suit the unusual year.
"We wanted races to work with the horse population," Yovanovich said. "They needed a couple maiden races, obviously, and we had them add in an apprentice race to suit" the revamped NSA schedule. "Those young riders need places to 'qualify' so they can move up to the sanctioned circuit, and these two point-to-points really stepped up to make it happen."
Just two Virginia point-to-points ran this spring before the coronavirus essentially shut down sports, and society. The March 7 Rappahannock Hunt Point-to-Point was held at The Hill in Boston, and the March 14 Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point was held at Airlie. Old Dominion would have been April 4.
Phase 3 particulars
The tricky puzzle for event organizers is how to manage "Phase 3 opening" mandates.
They’re allowed 1,000 spectators in addition to essential personnel, Welch explained. To allow for social distancing, tailgate spots will be spaced on the hill overlooking the natural bowl of the Ben Venue Farm course. "There’s plenty of room,” Welch said.
There’s no general admission; spectators are considered “event sponsors,” buying one of 200 parking spaces. Each party is to stay within their “pod,” Hatcher said, with no wandering or socializing like normal.
No food will be for sale on the grounds. Everyone entering the Ben Venue course has to have a temperature check and turn in a signed COVID waiver and a health questionnaire at the gate.
At press time, a few sponsor parking spaces were still available for sale. Contact admissions' chair Linda Reynolds at 540-270-0651. Entry details are at centralentryoffice.com.
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