The Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) annually provides $25,000 to five different sanctioned steeplechase meets in the Commonwealth — the Middleburg Spring & Fall Races, the Montpelier Fall Race and the Foxfield Spring & Fall Races. That $125,000 helps support purses at these time honored Virginia events.
The Foxfield Races, located just outside of Charlottesville, are one of several Virginia-based sanctioned steeplechase meets that have rescheduled their event dates due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Foxfield’s spring race has been moved from April 25 to June 13, the Virginia Gold Cup Races have been moved from May 2 to June 20 — and as a result, will not include Kentucky Derby wagering as part of the program — and the Middleburg Spring Races have been bumped from April 18 to June 13 also. The balance of the spring Point-to-Point season, which had been scheduled every weekend through April, has been completely cancelled.
Pat Butterfield has been Foxfield’s Director of Racing since 1991, and the 2020 edition will be his 30th year in that position. He is a UVA grad (class of ’65) and has his 55th reunion scheduled this June. From 1978 – 1990, he was an outrider at Foxfield then applied for the Director of Racing position in 1990, got hired, and officially started that job the following year.
The current Foxfield Racing Association, which has been in place since the first meet back in 1978, will cease to exist as of June 1. Management and oversight of the races will be transitioned to a new group called Foxfield Racing, LLC though the current group, including Butterfield, will still administer the ’20 edition. The new group includes by Dr. Reynolds Coles, who currently serves as Safety Committee chair of the National Steeplechase Association (NSA).
The future looks promising. The 179 acre property will receive protection from an open space easement, and a new 501 (c)(3) organization will be established — the Marian Tejada Foxfield Memorial Foundation. “She was the founder of the property,” said Butterfield. “She bought it in 1975 from Grover Vandevener and back then it was called Fox Fields. Grover, who taught riding, bought it in the 1930’s when it was the Albemarle airport.” An old hangar is still located on the grounds.
“The expense of running the races here is huge and the operation needs a change,” said Butterfield. “This is a tremendous asset that brings people in from out of town who enjoy meals at area restaurants and stay overnight. There are very few communities that have an event like this. In Virginia, there is the Gold Cup, Middleburg, Montpelier and us but that’s it. In spring,” he continued, “There are meets at in Aiken and Camden, then it moves up the coast as the weather gets better. But you can only do these meets in spring and fall because it’s just too hot in summer. These are special. People I know from California have visited the races here and said there’s nothing like it back where they live.”
When Foxfield began back in 1978, crowds for the spring and fall races were about equal. Over time though, the spring race grew as college students made it an annual rite and the fall race became more family oriented. “Money from the spring race keeps the place running year round now,” said Butterfield, who has attended all but two of Foxfield’s events. “The place can hold 22,000 people, but even getting that number in is a challenge. At the beginning, we didn’t have many logistical issues. There were just buses and cars. We didn’t have taxis, Uber and everything else that’s out there now. There is only one road in so when an Uber drops people off, they need to turn around and leave. As a result, we need to stop traffic coming in to accomodate that new logistic.”
Butterfield said the spring race most recently drew around 15,000 people and 206 buses helped shuttle people in. “Moving forward, the support of the community will be the key to success here. The new group will need to figure out how to attract another audience segment like the 30-and over crowd that used to attend but doesn’t so much any more.”
From an equine standpoint, Foxfield presents five races each meet — three hurdle races, one over timber and a training flat. There are 52 stalls on the property to accommodate horses that ship in. The course itself was designed in 1977 by Raymond Wolfe whose father was a trainer for Marion duPont Scott in Orange, Virginia. Wolfe designed a number of other courses around the country. “He was a genius in that way,” said Butterfield. “He was a clever guy, wrote a number of books and was the youngest jockey to win a steeplechase race ever at NYRA.”
Asked about his future after the 2020 edition, he said “I want to help the new company any way I can but I think 30 years of doing this job is enough. I’ve enjoyed it, been dedicated to it and want to see it succeed. They have a good group coming in and the fact that the property is in easement and preserved forever is a great thing.”
Ticket information and other event details can be found at foxfieldraces.com/spring.