Since 1979, Winterthur Country Garden Estates & Museum has opened its rolling hills and meadows to the people through the Point-to-Point Steeplechase Race, Delaware's only such event.
For several years, professional riders backed by thoroughbred horse owners and trainers have vied to win one of the four trophies and the accompanying prize money for the National Steeplechase Association sanctioned races.
Each of those trophies for the four sanctioned races has borne different names, including the Winterthur Bowl prize named after Henry Francis du Pont, the creator of Winterthur. To the winner goes the Henry Francis du Pont Challenger Trophy, Point-to-Point Director Jill Abbott said.
"This is our signature race," Abbott said.
HENRY FRANCIS DUPONT CHALLENGER TROPHY
Henry Francis du Pont, of DuPont Co. fame, owned Winterthur and the surrounding land and opened it up as a museum in 1951, Abbott said. He passed away in 1969, and the Point-to-Point race started in 1979.
H.F. du Pont, born in 1880, was the only son of Henry Algernon and Pauline du Pont, was born at Winterthur and, in his words, "always loved everything connected with it." He studied at New England's Groton School and later attended Harvard, from 1899 to 1903, where he studied practical agriculture and horticulture.
He and wife, Ruth Wales, had two daughters. He also collected American antiques, decorative arts and architectural elements and expanded his house to hold his collection. And with landscape architect Marian Coffin, du Pont perfected the gardens near the house.
The Winterthur Bowl is the second race scheduled for Sunday's Point-to-Point Steeplechase, Abbott said. It is sponsored by the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association based at Delaware Park.
ISABELLA DU PONT SHARP MEMORIAL
The first race is another timber race (where horses jump over hurdles) called the Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial, Abbott said. This race was named in honor of Isabella Sharp and her husband, Hugh Rodney Sharp, because they were very well known preservationists, she said. The couple had four children, who they raised at Gibraltar in Greenville. Isabella and Rodney Sharp purchased this land from Wilmington businessman John Rodney Brinckle, according to Preservation Delaware. Sharp (1880 – 1968) and his wife made extensive additions to the buildings and grounds and created the six-acre estate that has been preserved to this today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
THE VICMEAD PLATE
The third race of the day is an amateur apprentice timber race with a $7,500 purse, Abbott said. To the winner goes the Vicmead Plate.
This race is another timber race and it is named in honor of the founders of the Vicmead Hunt Club in 1920. They were Mrs. Victor du Pont, Mrs. (Ellen) Hollyday Meeds, Mr. A. Felix du Pont and Mrs. H. Rodney Sharp.
Page 2 of 2 - They founded Vicmead as an organized foxhunting club. Foxhunting eventually ceased as a club activity, but the fields full of horses and activities such as golf, tennis, squash, paddle tennis, swimming, dining and special events have remained. In 1977, Vicmead Hunt Club and Bidermann Golf Course merged. Abbott said Bidermann was the private golf course of H.F. du Pont and has since been leased to Bidermann for its private club.
The last race of the day is the Middletown Cup, which is an open, flat race without the hurdles, Abbott said. The winner the Middletown Cup trophy and the owner and trainer of the winning horse receive a $500 award.
GRETA BROWN LAYTON TROPHY
The last named trophy is named in honor of the woman who started the Point-to-Point steeplechase horse races, Abbott said. The Greta Brown Layton Trophy is presented to the trainer who earns the most points on the day of the races, she said. Layton started the Point-to-Point race in 1979. She was a supporter of Winterthur and an emeritus member of the Winterthur Board of Trustees.
Layton and some of her friends wanted to utilize the grounds more and let people enjoy them more so they cut the race course out of a figure-8, Abbott said.
"There are people on my race committee today who were part of forming the race course," she said.