Since 1939, the Piedmont Foxhounds have hosted the Piedmont Point-to-Point races in Upperville, Virginia. The most prestigious race of the meet is the Rokeby Challenge Bowl, which, for decades, has attracted top horses in training for major steeplechase races. From 1939 until his death in 1999, the race and trophy were sponsored by Mr. Paul Mellon, who was a member of Piedmont and an avid supporter of jump racing. The winner of the race received a small trophy to keep and their names were engraved on a large perpetual trophy which they could keep for one year. Those who won the race three times (not necessarily consecutively or with the same horse) retired the trophy and could take it home for keeps. The trophies provided by Mr. Mellon were exquisite examples of silver and were highly sought after prizes.

The Rokeby Bowl, Piedmont Point-to-Point trophy, c. 1720, sterling silver, on wood and silver base, 15 x 10 ⅞ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mary Gillian Fenwick, 2016

One of the original silver Rokeby Bowl trophies has been generously donated to the NSLM by Mary Gillian “Gill” Fenwick. Mrs. Fenwick retired the Rokeby Bowl after winning the race three consecutive years, in 1961, 1962, and 1963. She was just the third owner to retire the trophy (five more have done so since then). Her winners were piloted by the famous steeplechase jockey Crompton “Tommy” Smith, Jr., all three years. The horses were Bay Barrage (1961), General Tony (1962), and Fluctuate (1963).

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Tommy Smith aboard Fluctuate, in the 1963 Rokeby Bowl steeplechase. Tommy Smith (1937-2013) was a five-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner and became famous for winning the British Grand National race in 1965 with Jay Trump.  Photo courtesy of Carol Fenwick. ©Howard Allen Photography, LLC

All three were talented racers. After winning in 1961, Bay Barrage ran again in 1962 with Olympic equestrian Frank Chapot on board. He placed third against his stablemate General Tony. Past Maryland Hunt Cup winner Fluctuate, nicknamed “Chris,” won in 1963 when he was 16 years-young and was rewarded with well-earned retirement.

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Gill Fenwick (right) and Tommy Smith (left) accepting the Rokeby Bowl trophies from Mrs. Thomas B. Glascock, Jr. (center) in 1961. Photo courtesy of Carol Fenwick. ©Howard Allen Photography, LLC

The original course was on Mellon’s Rokeby Farm property in Upperville. The race was 4 1/4 miles long, included 22 post and rail fences averaging 3’9″ high, and included two in-and-outs! In 1957, the point-to-point was relocated to the farms of Mrs. J. F. F. Stewart and Dr. and Mrs. A. C. Randolph along Route 50 in Upperville, now known as the Salem Farm course.

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Frank Chapot (1932-2016) on Bay Barrage in the 1962 running of the Rokeby Bowl. Chapot, who just recently passed away in 2016, was an Olympic medalist, USET coach, and world-renowned trainer, who also occasionally rode in steeplechases. Photo courtesy of Carol Fenwick. ©Howard Allen Photography, LLC

The trophy itself has more stories to tell. The bowl is almost 300 years old, dating to the year 1720. The plain silver punch bowl is hand-engraved with an image of a horse and jockey and inscribed with the words “Silver Tail’d Betty” and “Banbury Town Plate 1720.”  Town Plates (flat race meetings) were held in towns all over England for centuries. Prior to the establishment of the Jockey Club in the early 1750’s, each meet featured its own set of rules. The town of Banbury is located in Oxfordshire, in Southern England.

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Detail of Rokeby Bowl trophy, with engraving of horse and jockey and “Silver Tail’d Bettey”

After Mr. Mellon acquired the bowl, he added a tiered wooden base with sterling silver bands and donated it to Piedmont for the race. The NSLM is grateful to Mrs. Fenwick for gifting this special piece of racing history to the collection. It has traveled a long way since it was first used as a race trophy in 18th century England, then awarded at steeplechase races in 20th century America, and now has a home on display at the NSLM.

The 76th running of the Piedmont Point-to-Point takes place Saturday, March 25th at the Salem Farm course in Upperville, Virginia. For a schedule of all the Spring Steeplechase races, visit the Virginia Steeplechase Association calendar.

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Twenty-two years ago, longshot Thoroughbred Sea Hero gave owner Paul Mellon (1907-1999) his first Kentucky Derby victory. It was also the first Derby win for jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer MacKenzie Miller. With the victory, Mellon became the only owner to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Sea Hero went on to win the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He was retired to stud at age four. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.

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Paul Mellon commissioned British sculptor Tessa Pullan to create a beautiful, three-quarter size bronze of the horse in 1995. Pullan is the same sculptor who created the Civil War Horse at the entrance to the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) campus. The sculpture of Sea Hero came to NSLM in October 2014 via the bequest of Mr. Mellon. It stands atop an impressive stone base, weighs over two tons and measures eight feet tall. Now installed in the NSLM boxwood garden, Sea Hero has recently been cleaned and treated by conservator Andrew Baxter.

Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.
Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.

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There are only two weeks left until Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on Saturday, May 30th! We invite you to join us for a day of presentations on the art and conservation, the transport and installation, and the horse that was the inspiration for the newest sculpture at the NSLM. This event will delve into the science of fine art conservation, in particular Andrew Baxter’s years caring for a variety of Mr. Mellon’s sculptures. Benjamin Gage will discuss the challenges of moving large-scale sculptures, and racing historian Ed Bowen will detail the history and legacy of Sea Hero and Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.

Sea Hero after conservation.
Sea Hero after conservation.

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Last week, fine art conservator Andrew Baxter was here on site to treat our bronze sculpture of Sea Hero. Andrew specializes in sculpture conservation and has worked on metal and stone art objects at major institutions like the National Gallery of Art, the White House, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and the NSLM!). He will be presenting at our upcoming program Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on May 30th. Here is a sneak peak at some of the trade secrets he will be sharing in his presentation.

The amazing thing about conservation is, it’s about art and science! This is one of the few times you will see this art historian get excited about math and chemistry!

So how do you go from this:

Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and "channels" created by rain water.
Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and streaks created by rain water.

To this?

Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, new patina, and waxing.
Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, wax, and polishing.

Not surprisingly, conserving an outdoor sculpture starts with the basics – getting it clean.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.

One of the many fun facts I learned last week: Orvus is a shampoo that many horse people are familiar with for cleaning up their equine friends. This same shampoo used to be widely utilized (and is still sometimes used) on bronze sculptures because of it’s non-corrosive nature. Andrew used a similar cleaning agent.

Next comes some more chemistry. The sculpture is treated with a solution which helps slow corrosion. Bronze metal is actually a combination of copper and tin. As most of us have seen, copper wants to turn green when it is out in the elements. While sometimes those green tints and weathered appearance can look beautiful, for bronze they are actually evidence of corrosion (think rust) which ultimately shortens the lifespan of the metal.

Sea Hero during treatment.
Sea Hero during treatment.

Our conservator then carefully applied layers of pigmented wax to protect the bronze and enhance the dark bay (brown-black) patina of the sculpture. Lots of polishing – and a perfectly warm and sunny day – resulted in the gleaming horse you see now in the boxwood garden.

Sea Hero after treatment.
Sea Hero after treatment.

If you want to learn more about how to care for sculptures, and see great images of some of the other beautiful pieces Andrew has worked on, don’t miss his presentation at the symposium! He’ll also be sharing some wonderful stories of his time working for the great philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon. Also presenting will be Ben Gage – an expert sculpture handler who has installed some amazing large scale artwork. (He is also one of the most enthusiastic art professionals you will ever meet!) And if you’re curious to learn more about the celebrity model for our bronze, racing historian and author Ed Bowen will be speaking about Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and Sea Hero the horse. Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is currently living a life of luxury in Turkey. His 1993 Derby win was the first for owner Paul Mellon, trainer Mackenzie Miller and jockey Jerry Bailey.

Come join us to learn more about them all on May 30th! To read more and register, click here or call us: (540) 687-6542 x. 25