by Craig Braddick
Dixon Stroud is the founder of the Willowdale Steeplechase taking place this Sunday (May 12) in Kennett Square, Pa.
An accomplished horseman, Dixon won the 1984 Maryland Hunt Cup on Bewley’s Hill and on the same horse took part in the 1987 Grand National at Aintree. Then, as now, a top-four finish in the Maryland Hunt Cup would get you entry into the Grand National.
Bewley’s Hill was brought down at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit but thankfully both horse and rider were ok, though Dixon broke his nose!
Dixon kindly agreed to a few questions as we look forward to the Willowdale Steeplechase.
Please tell us about the origins of the Willowdale Steeplechase.
Dixon Stroud: In the early 1990s, I spoke with Bill Pape, who was head of the NSA, as I realized there were lots of riders in the area but there wasn’t a steeplechase here. You had Winterthur, Radnor, and Fair Hill. So, I asked him about the property we have now, and they were positive about it. They asked: “Do you have a lot of local color?” I did not know that meant money to pay for the races. I answered “yes” and only learned what that really meant the next year! The NSA was behind me all the way, and I convinced family and friends it was a good idea. I was excited about it and did some homework and the first race was in 1993.
What have been some of your successful marketing ideas for this year’s race?
DS: Lisa Hatcher and Leslie White have worked really hard on this year’s race, and you can now buy tickets online for the event. We have been working hard to get corporate sponsorships, and Lisa has been very persistent in landing some of those. We were always on Facebook but have got better at doing that and are now using all the social media tools more effectively.
The Willowdale Steeplechase is on Mother’s Day – so what family activities do you have going on?
DS: We have something called “Kid’s Alley” where the kids can make and ride the stick ponies. Our beneficiaries–the Stroud Water Research Center, Quest Therapeutic Services Inc. and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center–all cater to the children and promote Willowdale as well. All of our sponsors promote Willowdale and take part in entertaining the children. People love the Jack Russell races; it is a very big draw for people.
Tell us a fascinating fact about the Willowdale Steeplechase people may not know about.
DS: You can see the whole course from one or two vantage points. I put in some wider fences, a combination of timber and brush, an open ditch, a water jump. They just don’t jump the artificial hurdles, so it is very exciting to watch! The track used to be the other way around too. We turned it into the current layout in the 1990s. The first year here I rode and had a maiden horse. You know, the stewards are in control and said I couldn’t jump the water jump on a maiden. I was a little frustrated, and I may have gone swimming too. You never know!
If people want to plan a last-minute trip to Willowdale this Sunday, how can they get tickets?
DS: They can go online and buy them at www.willowdalesteeplechase.org. If people are interested in becoming involved with corporate sponsorship, we would love to have them, and through our website they can contact Lisa Hatcher, who would be delighted to meet with them!