Off to the races for a good cause

Sydney Scherrer, 7, looks for her croquet mallet for the group photo of the Tyler, Scherrer, and McMackin families. The theme for their portrait at this year's Radnor Hunt Races was "Croquet in Cornwall."
Sydney Scherrer, 7, looks for her croquet mallet for the group photo of the Tyler, Scherrer, and McMackin families. The theme for their portrait at this year's Radnor Hunt Races was "Croquet in Cornwall." (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 19, 2014

How did Milica Schiavio get the lacy netting to flow off and back onto her tiered, silk-rose-studded basket of a hat, like some expressionist painter's take on the high-piled traditional headgear of Brittany in France?

"I wrapped it around a piece of swimming noodle," the Wynnewood hat designer, financial-services employee, and mother said Saturday with a laugh.

At this year's Radnor Hunt Races, as every year, fancy hats and preppy spring wear are as much a part of the scene as the steeplechasing horses and riders who jump through the green countryside on a point-to-point course.

The event is a fund-raiser for a cause near and dear to local landowners' hearts and wallets: the Brandywine Conservancy, a Chadds Ford institution that works to preserve fields, streams, and hillsides in Chester, Delaware, and New Castle Counties by helping arrange nondevelopment agreements in exchange for income- and real-estate-tax benefits.

More than 15,000 people crowded the sloping grounds of the Radnor Hunt Club in a part of Chester County's Willistown Township thick with horse farms and conservation tax easements, for the 84th edition of the races.

The event was expected to gross $700,000, of which $200,000 was paid out to winning riders, and $300,000 covered tents, security, and other expenses, yielding $200,000 for the conservancy, said Carol Griffin, who headed the conservancy's efforts in support of the show.

"We are the beneficiaries of this incredible tradition that supports open-space programs," said Virginia A. Logan, who left a 25-year career at Sunoco and took the top job at the Brandywine Conservancy in 2011.

Recently, the group has been working with Amish farmers near Honeybrook. George Strawbridge, a Campbell Soup heir and resident of central Chester County with a famous horse stable, has been among that effort's effective supporters, Logan said.

Strawbridge cochaired the Hunt races with Elizabeth "Betty" [Mrs. J. Maxwell] Moran, a Smith Kline heiress, horse-farm owner, and equestrian-events supporter.

The races accommodate tailgaters, from catered corporate booths sponsored by businesses like Penn Liberty and Univest banks to dozens of family "boxes" and small-business booths, such as the Woodstock-themed table presided over by Chester County home renovator Bob Seltzer.

Hilary Ryan, owner of Plank Studio, a Wayne "megaformer" exercise salon, brought in veteran Main Line caterer Brian Schmidt to lay out a "healthy English teatime" spread for her guests. "It's a tradition they hold on to here, every year," Schmidt said as armored horsemen of the National Guard's First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, Boy Scouts from Willistown Troop 78, and Brownies from Troop 4139 formed color guards for race-opening ceremonies nearby.

"It's a good crowd," said Joe Gold, one of the bookmakers chalking up odds for the first race, as grandmothers in pastel colors lined up to place small cash bets. "All for a good cause," he added.

Sitting on the Radnor Hunt clubhouse veranda waiting for the first race, Strawbridge put that cause in perspective: Without groups like the Brandywine Conservancy and the land-protection benefits they help Chester County landowners arrange, Strawbridge said, "this would all be like Levittown."


JoeD@phillynews.com

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@PhillyJoeD

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