Canterbury Park hosted a steeplechase exhibition on Saturday as a fundraiser for a pair of distinguished local charities, The Hurdles Foundation and Bolder Options. It may have also served as a preview for a National Steeplechase Association sanctioned race in the future. The day included lunch, presentations and an exhibition of hurdles racing on the Canterbury turf course. One of the five equine participants was former Canterbury runner Chief Magistrate who is enjoying a second careers as an eventing horse. Commentary was provided by Annie Yeager, the St. Paul born steeplechase jockey. Yeager, a young star on the steeplechase scene, won the 2015 Grand National Steeplechase aboard Serene Harbor in Butler, MD. We were fortunate enough to catch up with the engaging young rider after the exhibition.
How did you get started steeplechasing?
The Virginia Gold Cup is in Middleburg, Virginia and it ended up being right down the road from where I was working at three-day eventing. I was also going to high school there at the time and some of my friends and I decided to go to the steeplechase races because it’s such a big event there. I went to the Gold Cup and saw everything that was going on there and it happened to be at a time when the horse I was eventing on got hurt and I ended up running in the Gold Cup the very next year, so it happened very quickly.
How were you able to get started so quickly?
It really worked out because I went to Foxcroft, which is a girls boarding school in Virginia, and one of my best friend’s father was a steeplechase trainer, Donnie Ivanovich. It was just a fortunate turn of events and my parents were nice enough to buy me my first race horse called Mischief and he ran third in the Virginia Gold Cup the following year and I’ve won a couple of races on him under rules and a bunch of point-to-point wins.
What adjustments did you need to make between the cross country portion of eventing and racing?
In steeplechasing you’re going a lot faster. In eventing the courses are tricky but it’s all about going into the fences, setting up your horse, really take back and slow way down. In steeplechase racing when the flag drops you just drop your hands and you are running. You have to have a lot of trust in your horse and let them find their own stride into the fences.
Given the trust aspect and necessary endurance of a steeplechase, how many horses do you race in a day?
I have a group of about 10 horses that I ride consistently but on a given day I will be riding three or four races in an afternoon.
Races are about 3 miles each so it helps to ride every day. That’s what I do, I gallop horses in the morning. Cyril Murphy is a private trainer for Irvin Naylor, a prominent steeplechase owner, and has a stable of about 25 horses and I gallop them every morning.
When is the Steeplechase season?
I missed the latter part of the spring because I had a fall and broke vertebrae in my neck and back and I’m still recovering from that. I’m hoping to start back working again in a few weeks. Summer is really our down time and then we start up again in the fall.
Tracks like Saratoga and Belmont host professional hurdle racing rather than traditional steeplechasing, which is more my thing.
There is some talk that Canterbury could play host to a sanctioned event next year. What would that mean?
A professional hurdle race would be huge here. It would be a big get for here and also big for professional hurdle racing. If they could put up the purse they are talking about – half a million to a million dollars – that would attract horses from overseas and bring real international competition.