Courtesy of Montpelier Hunt Races, edited by Tod Marks
Charlie Seilheimer, who helped expand the popularity of the Montpelier Hunt Races and assure its financial stability, announced he’ll be retiring as race chairman on Dec. 31 after 25 years at the helm.
Under Seilheimer’s guidance, the meet, traditionally held on the first Saturday of November on the front lawn of the home of former President James Madison, has consistently drawn about 18,000 fans and generated significant funds to support the site and lifelong home of the fourth president.
“It’s been both a challenge and a delight,” Seilheimer said, “but now the time is right to pass the leadership on to a new generation.”
The duPont family purchased Montpelier in 1901 and steeplechasing stalwart Marion duPont Scott launched the Races in 1934. She generously invited the public to attend and underwrote the entire cost herself. Upon her death in 1983, duPont’s niece, Jean McConnell Sheehan, offered to cover the expenses while the meet transitioned into an event that could pay for itself.
The local Orange community’s enthusiasm helped the race meet grow and eventually become a fundraiser for the historic property. When Seilheimer took over in 1997, the races had been through some rough patches, and he was tasked with energizing a new Board of Directors and making the races financially viable.
Seilheimer was passionate about including the community in the meet’s leadership. Local organizations pitched in and became valued partners. The Paddock Party, the kick off event on Friday before the meet, was reimagined, which included moving the tents alongside the course. And during this time Montpelier itself was exploring the idea of removing the duPont additions to the mansion and returning the home to the state it would have been in at the time when James and Dolley Madison lived there.
“One year, during the renovation, we had to run the races without the use of the main entrance to Montpelier, Center Road, as it was being totally reengineered,” Seilheimer recalled. “That was a challenge to bring in thousands of spectators on two small gravel side roads, but we pulled it off. The public loves watching a sporting event on James Madison’s front lawn, and the horsemen love racing on the well maintained duPont turf.”
National Steeplechase Association Director of Racing Bill Gallo said of Seilheimer: “As the longstanding race chairman for the Montpelier Hunt Races, Charlie and I worked closely at creating and improving the annual racing card. Over that period Montpelier has advanced as a race meet and improved with escalating purses and superb racing conditions, which has been greatly appreciated by the NSA horsemen. For several years Charlie also served on the NSA Board of Directors and helped guide our sport forward in a positive manner. He has made a great contribution to steeplechasing in America, and we at the NSA are most grateful.”
Succeeding Seilheier will be David Perdue, a foxhunter and horseman who lives on a farm near Montpelier. He is an accomplished executive who is committed not only to equestrian pursuits, but also to the preservation of Orange’s rural lifestyle and Madison’s legacy.