Unprecedented. That was the word used by event coordinator Kathy Freney Smith in describing the rain that fell before the 88th running of the Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern on Saturday. As for race time, a soggy mist hung over the W. Burling Cocks Memorial Racecourse for most of the day. But that wasn't such a bad thing, at least for the competitors.
"Actually, racing-wise, this is ideal," said Skip Achuff, the director of racing for the Radnor Hunt. "Soft going, the horses can go a little slower … a little safer. So it's not a bad thing."
The day's six races, which generated $190,000 of purse money, usually draw about 25,000 spectators, Smith and Achuff said. But that number likely took a hit because of the weather.
The races were dramatic despite the gray skies, and the first one, the Milfern Cup, was easily the best of the day. Hoppala, owned by Colvin G. Ryan and ridden by Shane Crimin, edged Set To Music by, according to one race official, "a nose."
Crimin, from Dublin, Ireland, had ridden Hoppala before, so he knew the horse well and was optimistic going into the race. So, as Hoppala and Set To Music bolted neck-and-neck down the final stretch, Crimin didn't feel the need to change a thing.
"You just go hard to the line, and you don't look up until you've crossed it," Crimin said.
In the National Hunt Cup, which had the day's largest purse, $50,000, Surprising Soul, owned by Wendy W. Hendricks and ridden by Ross Geraghty, trailed Bobabout for much of the race.
Geraghty wasn't worried.
"He's run on soft ground before," Geraghty said. "We didn't think it would bother him."
And it didn't. During the final stretch, Surprising Soul pulled away from the pack.
"He was running hard for me," Geraghty said. "I gave him a couple of smacks, and I knew [the other horses] weren't going to come back at me."
Geraghty was the big winner of the day, also winning the James M. Moran Jr. Steeplechase. He rode Cheers To Us, owned by Rosbrian Farm.
The Thompson Memorial Steeplechase, which had the second-largest purse at $35,000, was won by Jack Boyle on Unsinkable, owned by Robert A. Kinsley.
Rider Darren Nagle, on Top Man Michael, finished first in the Radnor Hunt Cup. The horse is owned by Irvin S. Naylor.
In the final race of the day, the Henry Collins Steeplechase, Willie McCarthy rode Pik Em to victory. Pik Em is owned by Woodslane Farm.
The racecourse, on Providence Road, is about a mile around, and the horses run clockwise for two or three laps depending on the race. Proceeds of the event benefit the Brandywine Conservancy.