The Willowdale Steeplechase: Raising the Bar on Mother’s Day Weekend


by Rachel Tallant

Horse racing is a familiar sport in Delaware, but contrary to the oblong flat racetracks at Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway, it’s more sophisticated sister sport is a dazzling affair among many, with Northern Delaware natives being highly familiar with the annual Point-to-Point held at Winterthur. The annual event features “steeplechasing,” as it’s known, a horse race in which the horses are required to jump over obstacles during the run, as well as to-the-nines outfits and Kentucky-Derby-worthy hats.

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What many don’t know, however, is that a far less expensive and more family-friendly event takes place just one week later about 20 minutes north into Pennsylvania. The Willowdale Steeplechase has traditionally been held on Mother’s Day for 27 years and takes place in the heart of Chester County’s, Cheshire Hunt County. The event’s home once a 160-acre dairy farm, creates a natural amphitheater that allows for viewing from virtually any angle, and features a one-of-a-kind jump that requires the thoroughbred horses leap across a 12 foot span of water with an 18-inch drop in elevation – a feat that requires the jockeys to “surf” on the horses.

Aside from racing, there are many other things to do at this event such as Jack Russell Terrier races, stick pony races for kids, antique cars, food trucks, beer and wine vendors, and loads of boutique shops to buy gifts just in time for Mother’s Day. In addition to the date change, there will also be “Tents on the Turn” with exclusive, up-close and weather-friendly seating for the race, and hilltop tailgating tents. General admission parking is free and general admission passes are sold race day – children 12 & under are also free.

Photograph by Jim Graham

The Willowdale Steeplechase is a non-profit organization “racing” to raise money for two community organizations; 

These donations support educating the public on natural resources and teaching the next generation of large animal veterinarians in the community. Over the course of its operation, the organization has donated over one million dollars to charity.

But there’s a twist: the race will be held the day BEFORE Mother’s Day, on Saturday, May 9th, 2020. An equestrian herself, Leslie White, the Race Director of the Willowdale Steeplechase, hopes to continue the Mother’s Day tradition by allowing families to make a weekend out of it. With the race being the day before, people won’t have to choose between celebrating Mother’s Day and the race. White says, “there has been positive and exciting feedback from the community on the date change”.

Photograph by Jim Graham

Every year that the event is held, it is a wonderful day in the country. Leslie White began directing the race 20 years ago and returned in 2014. With some help from her own family, a tremendous amount of organization, multitasking, and a lot of assistance from the race committee and local volunteers, the Willowdale Steeplechase can go off without a hitch each year.


Leslie states, “We are really very excited– we welcome everyone and are extremely grateful to the community and volunteers that give so much support.”

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Saturday, May 9th, 2020, because this is an event you won’t want to miss. For more information about the event and its history can be found at https://willowdalesteeplechase.org/


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