FAIR HILL — Ringing in the 85th Annual Fair Hill Races, the typically one-day event saw two days of races with the addition of the first-ever Twilight Races on Friday.
The free event featured an afternoon of amateur racing with two flat races and two timber races, as well as craft beer tastings, food trucks, cornhole and other activities at the race track.
Jen Sprout and Paula Thomas, both from Fair Hill, are longtime patrons of the Fair Hill Races.
“I’ve been coming off and on ever since I was a kid,” Sprout said.
With the new Twilight Races this year, Thomas said she and her friend just had to see what it was all about.
“We traditionally come every year on Saturday,” she said. “We thought we would hit the Friday evening race and see what’s going on.”
Sprout said the energy at Fair Hill Races is what keeps her coming back year after year.
“It’s local. The atmosphere, the people. It’s just a good family time,” she said.
In the first race of the day, Ballybristol Farm's Silver Crescent, ridden by McLane Hendriks and trained by Leslie Young, took first.
Woodslane Farm's Overwhelming, ridden by Brett Owings and trained by Jack Fisher, clinched a win in the second race.
The third race, a flat race for amateur and apprentice riders, saw a win by Morningstar Farm’s Good and Proper, ridden by Elizabeth Scully and trained by Ricky Hendriks.
In the final timber race of the day, victory was claimed by Schoodic, ridden Michael Mitchell and trained by Jack Fisher.
Fair Hill International board member Barbara Bateman was pleased with the turnout and that the weather cooperated.
“I really thought it was wonderful, and look at the day we had,” Bateman said.
Sarah Colenda, who serves as the co-chair for the Young Event Horse Championships for Fair Hill International, said Fair Hill and horse racing in general have been ingrained in her all her life.
“It’s just part of my being,” said Coleman, who has been working with Fair Hill International for over 30 years. “My family, the Warringtons, they were all horse people. My father used to fox hunt with Willy du Pont on this property. He was here for the first horse race when it first came. It’s just a part of who I am. It’s a part of Cecil County.”
That heritage is set to enter a new era as Fair Hill prepares for the arrival of five-start eventing. The Maryland Board of Public Works approved $17 million in funding for improvements that will make Fair Hill one of seven locations in the world capable of hosting the pinnacle of equestrian eventing competition.
Colenda said that the expansion will not only be a boon to the local economy, but it will have benefits statewide.
“This is more than just Cecil County. This is the state of Maryland,” she said.
Some Fair Hill neighbors raised concerns over the project’s impact on well water and the area's natural habitat during an open house May 15.
Colenda acknowledged community members’ concerns, but she said ultimately the five-star improvements will bring valuable revenue to the county.
“I know change is difficult for some people, but it’s not going to be the impact that people believe it to be. It’s going to be such a wonderful addition to bring tourism into our county," she said. "There’s room for everybody to play here."
Fair Hill International leaders broke ground on the expansion Friday, and will officially begin the project Tuesday.
Jay Griswold, vice president of the Fair Hill Foundation, said the expansion would have been a point of pride for the Fair Hill Races’ founder, William du Pont Jr., who started the event in 1934.
“I think old Willy du Pont is looking down on us and smiling, and I think he’d be very pleased and proud as to what we’re doing here,” Griswold said.
Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the project will continue to contribute to Maryland’s economy and history tied to the horse industry.
“We’re so excited to be breaking ground on the 85th anniversary with a proud past and very bright future for Fair Hill,” she said.