Polo players race to finish at steeplechase.

The fields at the Far Niente Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, were transformed into a racetrack on November 29 for the inaugural Palm Beach Steeplechase. The one-mile racetrack, running clockwise, surrounded the fields, formerly fields No. 1 and 2 of Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. More than 6,000 people attended the all-day event, which included five races over hurdles and one polo-pony flat race.

The event honored Palm Beach Polo founder Bill Ylvisaker and served as a benefit to the Wellington Equestrian Foundation.

Spectators could tailgate with their cars in the infield or under tents in the carless tailgate section on the rail. Others enjoyed general admission and strolled the beer garden, wine festival, boutique shopping and kids zone, including pony rides, face painting, a petting zoo and slides.

There was plenty to do for everyone throughout the day. Gates opened at 9 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m. Aside from the races, there was a classic-car parade and exhibition, live music, hat and tailgate contests and Jack Russell terrier races. Additionally, prior to the races the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue honor guard and pipe and drum corps performed, there was a running of the hounds by the Palm Beach Hounds, a dove release and skydivers, carrying the American flag, landed on the infield.

The feature race was a $100,000 Grade 1 novice hurdle, which decided the yearend novice championship. Other races included a 3-year-old stakes and a filly and mare stakes. The steeplechase races, all sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, were run at a distance of 2 1/4 miles over hurdles. Top owners, trainers and riders competed in this steeplechase season finale. Gil Johnston, mother of Bendabout Polo team’s Gillian Johnston, owned two horses in the races and polo player Jonathan Sheppard had six horses he trained competing. Horses arrived from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas for the races. The final race was a celebrity, flat polopony race run about a half-mile.

Contestants, carrying polo mallets, included players Tommy Biddle and daughter Lauren Biddle; Mili Galindo, daughter of Hector Galindo; Hayden Walsh, son of America’s Most Wanted’s John Walsh; John Gobin; Leo Mandelbaum; Melissa Ganzi; Tommy Blake; and Dale Schwetz. Tony Coppola announced the polo-pony race. Tommy Blake, wearing a stylish red, white and blue motorcycle helmet, came in first place, followed by Walsh and Tommy Biddle.


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