Local residents have many sentimental reasons for attending the Foxfield Fall Races, which will return to Foxfield on Garth Road on Sunday.
Many fans remember galloping along on foot in the stick pony races as children, while others look back fondly on enjoying pony rides before gathering at the rail to glimpse the majesty of steeplechase horses in action. Still others recall time spent with college friends from across Virginia, reflecting their respective school colors in blazers and ties. Tailgates loaded with elegant fare have nourished many memories as well.
For one local family, Foxfield’s fall event is a cherished anniversary on multiple levels. The 1991 Foxfield Fall Races was the official first date for Kimberly Skelly, then a Mary Baldwin College student, and her husband, who was attending Washington and Lee University. They tied the knot there on Sept. 26, 1999.
“We had a beautiful wedding. We were on the south hill,” said Skelly, who is president and executive director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation. “We got married under a big tree and had a bluegrass band.” Of course, one of their favorite wedding-day photos captured horses jumping in the background.
“We’ve come back many times to watch the Fall Races and celebrate our anniversary,” Skelly said. Their son Stokes, now 15, will take part this year in parading the beagles with Farmington Hunt Club members.
Many of the Skellys’ friends will be back in Albemarle County for the fall races.
“It’s going to feel like a reunion for all of us,” she said.
One friend will be traveling from New York with his wife and their children, which stirs fond memories for Skelly of when her own children, now 15 and 12, were enjoying Foxfield’s children’s activities.
“They’re too big for the pony rides now, but we sure saddled them up,” Skelly said with a chuckle. “We’d never hesitate to bring kids. It’s a different beat, a different feel.”
For jockey Mell Boucher, “it’s one of my favorite places to go.” Her love of horses and racing came early, as she was raised by a jockey father and trainer mother, and she said she “grew up going to Foxfield.”
Boucher, 20, got her jockey’s license at age 16, and race fans can see her pictured in her element on the race posters. As a jockey, she has a different vantage point for enjoying the steeplechase action.
“It’s a really good course,” Boucher said. “It’s aways a good day, even if it’s pouring down rain.” She said she also loves “the atmosphere. It’s a good group of people.”
Asked what her favorite part of Foxfield Fall Races is, Boucher quipped, “As a jockey, I’d probably say crossing the finish line first.”
“It’s a really good job that a lot of people don’t get to say they do,” Boucher said. “It’s a lot of hard work. My whole life revolves around horses.”
Boucher has a simple piece of advice for Foxfield first-timers.
“The main thing is to make sure you watch one race,” she said. “For us, this is how we make our living — and our life.”
Watching just one race could be a life-changing opportunity to get involved in the thrill of the sport, she said.
“They could be future owners,” Boucher said. “You could become a horse owner someday.”
Michelle Wamsley, chief advancement officer for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, said the partnership with Foxfield, now in its third year, reflects shared values of building and strengthening community ties.
“One of the things I value about Foxfield is it is bringing the community together in the fall for steeplechase,” Wamsley said. “It goes far beyond the philanthropic aspect. It’s a great opportunity for us to show what Habitat does for the community.”
As part of the family activities, Habitat will offer a LEGO build for young people. While children are learning more about steeplechase racing, they also can absorb lessons about pitching in and using their talents to help build homes for neighbors.
The partnership is a comfortable fit. Foxfield has not only helped raise funds for Habitat, but also participated in projects to help provide safe housing for local families, she said.
“That reinforcement of values is pretty special,” Wamsley said.
To engage on a deeper level with the main event, go to the Stable Duel App to play free games and learn about the horses, trainers and riders. Be sure to pick up a race program to follow along, or get the schedule from foxfieldraces.com.
Tickets are $55; visitors ages 12 and younger get in for free. A family package is available at foxfieldraces.com.
Gates for the Foxfield Fall Races will open at 9:30 a.m., and the first race begins at 12:30 p.m. The races will continue rain or shine. The Children’s Tent, Vendor Village and food trucks will open at 10 a.m. Get all the particulars at foxfieldraces.com.