NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) -
The Second Annual Dogwood Classic will take place on Saturday, April 5 at Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County.
Workers at Colonial Downs have been busy all week in preparation for the upcoming Dogwood Classic steeple chase races. The Dogwood Classic is a steeple chase, which varies in comparison to flat races, such as the Kentucky Derby.
“In flat racing, a jockey is just a rider. A steeple chase jockey is a horseman,” said Colonial Downs Track Superintendent J.D. Thomas.
Michael Pearson, a veteran steeple chase jockey said of the race, “it’s a rush; there are very few things like it.”
Unlike flat horse racing, a steeple chase is essentially the equine version of hurdles, adding a new element to the sport. As Thomas described it, “there’s always the thrill of the fall.”
Longtime rider Pearson is well aware of the thrills and dangers of falling in steeple chase racing. “Strap yourself to the back of a horse you’ve never seen before and go 40 mph into a 4-foot fence."
“Hitting the ground is commonplace. I have a plate in my head, I’ve broken my collarbone 15 or 16 times, broken my back twice," Pearson said. "I’ve suffered a compound fracture in my leg and arm. But I’m walking around. How many football players dread being tackled? It’s just part of the game."
Similar to the feeling one experiences while watching a Nascar race, no one roots for a fall. But when it happens, it’s hard to look away. So why on earth, would one compete in such a horseracing event?
“I can still hear my own heartbeat before every race. You find me the things in your life that you can say that about. You won’t have many,” Pearson said.
It seems as if the adrenaline rush jockeys derive from competing in steeple chase racing is what keeps bringing him back to the track time and time again.