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Remembering Recently Departed Brandywine Valley Steeplechase Legends

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This past year, the steeplechase community lost several influential members. We remember their legacies.

 

Mrs. J. Maxwell “Betty” Moran

Photos by Jim Graham.

Philanthropist and thoroughbred owner and breeder Elizabeth “Betty” Moran fostered an early love of animals and the outdoors through many avenues, dedicating much of her life to flat racing, horse showing, fox hunting and steeplechase racing. The Chester County, Pa., native passed away on Jan. 23, 2020, at the age of 89.

Perhaps Moran’s greatest successes came when her gelding won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in 1985 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1986-87. She also chaired or co-chaired the Radnor Hunt Races for over 40 years. Always involved in a the community, Moran gave generously to Chester County Food Bank, Community Volunteers in Medicine, Home of the Sparrow and other nonprofit organizations.

Moran was also a strong supporter of equestrian nonprofits like Barn at Spring Brook Farm. At this 17-acre farm in West Chester, Pa., children ages 2-12 with cognitive, developmental or physical disabilities learn skills through animal-assisted activities. She was also a supporter of the Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern, Pa., which offers equine therapy for those with physical and emotional developmental differences.

Over the years, Moran sat on the boards of the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Operation Warm and Paoli Hospital. For all of her philanthropic work, she was awarded the Allaire C. du Pont Humanitarian Award,
the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Silver Bellwether Medal and, most recently, the Lifetime Achievement Award for the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

From childhood on, Moran was a staple at Radnor Hunt. When Willowdale Steeplechase launched, she was among its champions. It’s a tradition her son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Anne, continue to this day.

 

David Hershbell

Here in the Brandywine Valley, David Hershbell’s loss has been felt all the more. A longtime steeplechase supporter and a senior steward of the National Steeplechase Association, the Pennsylvania native passed away on Nov. 27, 2019. He was 72 years old.

Hershbell and his wife, Charlene, spent a great deal of time on their West Grove, Pa., farm, not far from where he worked in marketing for over 30 years at Lenape Forged Products Corp. in West Chester. Earlier in life, Hershbell served in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

No matter where life took him, he was involved in the many aspects of steeplechase, even serving as the presiding steward at the Genesee Valley Hunt Races in New York. Locally, the couple was heavily involved with Point-to-Point at Winterthur and Willowdale Steeplechase—especially the pony races. Their late daughter, Alison, was a rising star in the sport. Over the years, the Hershbells provided oversight and organization at both races, helping develop the ponies into a staple at Willowdale.

Point-to-Point’s pony races were renamed in the late 2000s in honor of Alison. The trophy presented at Willowdale also bears her name in perpetuity. Charlene and their son, Scott, will carry on those traditions, and this year’s Point-to-Point pony races will carry both Alison and David’s names.

Known for his impeccable style, steadfastness at the races and fair judicial views, Hershbell will be missed.

 

Louis “Paddy” Neilson III

Louis “Paddy” Neilson III rode in his first race at 14. A year later, he won Maryland’s Grand National Steeplechase. Ultimately, though, Neilson—who passed away on Sept. 5, 2019, at the age of 77—was a man defined by his myriad interests. A revered jockey, horse owner and trainer, he also had many other passions, including North Atlantic salmon fishing, Civil War history and the rock band Coldplay.

Born in Glen Cove, N.Y., Neilson graduated from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Even as a broker for Alex. Brown & Sons in Philadelphia, he never set aside his love of foxhunting and racing. He rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup 21 times, winning it three times in three decades. For 10 years, he was the leading amateur steeplechase jockey in North America.

After the stock market crash of 1987, Neilson joined his wife, Toinette, as a full-time trainer at their Rockaway Farm in Chatham, Pa. He chaired the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races for 17 years and the Plumsted Farm Races for 11. He was also chairman of London Grove Township’s Open Space Committee and its Parks and Recreation Committee.

A passionate foxhunter, Neilson hunted with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds since childhood. Serving as full-time honorary whipper-in for the last 13 years, he jumped his last fence just weeks before his death. He also served as master of foxhounds alongside his daughter, Sanna, and he chaired Cheshire’s most successful Point-to-Point Races in 2019.

 

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Point-to-Point, Willowdale Steeplechase and Radnor Hunt Races have been canceled. 

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