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Monday, March 20, 2023

Sam Slater, steeplechasing's most recognized filmmaker

Reprinted with permission from the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation - an article on Sam Slater and his relatives

By Betsy Burke Parker

His family has touched pretty much every aspect of the horse world.

Sam SlaterSam SlaterWhen former National Steeplechase Foundation president, retired National Steeplechase Association videographer and one-time Banks Race competitor at the Scarteen meet in Ireland Sam Slater unspooled his family horse racing legacy, it was quite a tale, spanning two centuries and two continents.

Slater is a past winner of one of Maryland horse racing's highest honors, and his family tree has been fruitful for generations.

Sister Joy Slater won the AHSA Medal classic, was the first woman to win the Maryland Hunt Cup, and is, by many accounts, one of the nation's most well-rounded and highly accomplished stylists.

Their mother, Jill Fanning was another standout, training the winners of most of the nation’s top races, including three Maryland Hunt Cups.

Grandparents Miles and Joy Valentine were among the best-known owner-breeders on the circuit for decades, and their pink-with-cerise-hearts silks were - and, today, continue to be - the most-recognized on racecourses on both sides of the Atlantic.


EVEN THE ancestors get in on the game – Sam Slater’s namesake was America’s first industrial spy, another – Jessie Drew-Bear, is a turn-of-the-century artist whose work remains treasured due to her use of color and movement in her insightful paintings.

From the tiny village of Cahervillahow in County Tipperary to the racecourse at Maryland’s Fair Hill, meet members of his clan to understand how it is that Sam Slater is ending up in his basement storage room for hours these days, digitizing thousands of yards of celluloid of American steeplechasing film.

You need a starting point – National Steeplechase archivist Sam Slater

Sam Slater may not have ridden a Maryland Hunt Cup winner like his sister, nor saddled one like his mother, nor been owner-breeder of a long list of hurdle and timber stakes winners like his grandparents, yet Slater has been part of American steeplechasing's framework for more than 40 years.

Behind the camera and in front of it, Slater played an integral role in legitimizing the game and bringing it to a new level of professionalism, both in the eyes of the participants and the eyes of the world.

Slater, 71, grew up in Bedminster, N.J., middle of the Essex hunt country and just down the road from the U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters at Gladstone.

“We used to see all sorts of Olympic riders there,” Slater recalls, people like Mike Plumb, Jimmy Wofford, Kevin Freeman and Bruce Davidson who would often gallop horses for Slater's mother, steeplechase trainer Jill Fanning. “In those days, they really recognized how racehorses taught you a sense of pace,” and many of the elite level eventers also rode races.

Kevin Freeman won the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 1969 and New Jersey Hunt Cup in 1970 on Stutter Start for owner-trainer Jill Fanning.

Slater's father, Nelson Slater, was a traffic engineer, later Deputy Transportation Secretary for the state of New Jersey.

"He was a non-horsey person," Sam Slater says, "but abided all the family horse activity while my parents were married."

His parents divorced in 1974; Nelson Slater moved to Connecticut and remarried. Jill moved to Pennsylvania and married horseman Phil Fanning.

Slater rode as a child but quit after a disastrous costume class incident involving an Eddie Arcaro costume and a retired racehorse.

He didn’t really take it back up until he was 17. When he did, his motives weren’t altogether pure.

“I figured out it was a good way to meet girls,” he says. “I was right.”

Slater studied at the Groton School in Massachusetts and the University of Pennsylvania.

He took some film courses at the New School and New York University, having had a taste of documentary work as a teen.

“So, my mother and my sister were the serious riders in the family,” Slater traces how he ended up behind the camera rather than in front of it. “It was the days of super 8 film (video) cameras. It wasn’t like today with different cameras and positions around the course – it was just me and one hand-held camera.

“They said, ‘here, film this race.’ I got pretty good at it.”

After school, he embraced foxhunting, and rode a handful of point-to-points, including the Banks race at the Scarteen Point-to-Point in Ireland.

In 1977-’78, Slater moved to England to work with David Balding’s Red Oak television production.

A cousin of trainer Ian Balding (Mill Reef, winner of the 1971 Epsom Derby and the Arc), David Balding had lots of race film contracts, plus they worked on projects from the Royal Windsor carriage competition to producing a feature on the Wimbledon ball boys and more.

Slater worked the Epsom and Irish derbies before returning to the U.S.

Back home, Slater conceived Hunt Cup Productions when Cancottage’s first owner in the U.S., Broderick Munro Wilson contracted Slater to document his quest to win the 1979 Maryland Hunt Cup.

“He was a real self-promoter,” Slater says of the English-born and -based owner-rider, “but he gets full credit for picking out Cancottage and recognizing him as a horse that would excel in American timber racing.”

Munro Wilson rode Cancottage in the 1979 Maryland Hunt Cup.

The idea, Slater explains, was for him to produce a slick documentary – now using “modern” 16mm film – of Munro Wilson and Cancottage prepping for, and winning, the American classic.

They’d sell it to the BBC, Munro Wilson said. It would be an instant hit.

It didn’t happen quite that way.

Munro Wilson sent Cancottage to Jill Fanning to train, and Sam Slater began collecting footage.

Munro Wilson and Cancottage finished second in the Elkridge Harford heavyweight timber in early April, third of three in the Grand National two weeks later.

Munro Wilson fell when in contention at the 17th in the Maryland Hunt Cup the following week. but remounted, finishing hundreds of lengths behind winner Dosdi, but is credited as fifth.

Munro Wilson scrapped the film, but Slater liked being involved in the sport so important to his family for so many generations.

A year or two later, home video started coming in, Slater says, “with better film and smaller cameras,” so he could have cameras positioned around a racecourse, and they’d be more mobile, more dynamic.

Slater met and then married Lornie Forbes.

Lornie ForbesLornie Forbes“Lornie’s career with horses has had a big influence on me, and I think on the family as a whole,” says Sam Slater.

An upper level event rider on her own right, Forbes had a family antecedent, who had an influence on her love of horses: her great aunt, Mrs. William Coxe Wright owned jump race horses trained by Morris Dixon in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Her mother, Lorna Forbes, foxhunted and was co-founder of the Delaware Valley Combined Training Association.

At 19, Lornie Forbes was short-listed for the U.S. event team for the 1974 World Championships and was reserve for the 1978 World Championships, both times on different horses she made herself from scratch.

It was during a USET training session at Gladstone that Slater first met Forbes.

“Joy and Lornie attended training sessions during these times at ‘the team,’ as it was called, Joy for show jumping and Lornie for eventing,” Slater says. “My mother would sometimes invite the out-of-town riders from the training sessions for dinner, since we lived so nearby.

“Lornie was invited there for dinner one time, and she remembers that she was really looking forward to it because she was hoping to meet…Joy!

“I don’t think she even knew I existed.”

Forbes went on to a long, successful eventing career, competing in the U.S., England and France. She spent a season with Irish trainer Arthur Willie Moore, and galloped for Mikey Smithwick and flat trainer Dickie Small.

She still rides and hunts. Slater and Forbes are part of a Riverdee syndicate this season and split their time between Unionville, Pa., and Aiken, S.C.

IN 1982, Steve Groat had seen his camera work and asked him to be the official videographer at the Fair Hill Races.

Soon, Slater was covering most of the mid-Atlantic and northeast meets for NSA. He teamed with filmmaker Damon Sinclair when HCP took over all the NSA meets in 1990.

“It was fun work, but it was a ton of work,” Slater says, citing burnout and a renewed focus on his non-profit and foundation work when he stepped back from HCP in 2016 and handed the reins to Sinclair.

Slater served on 12 boards at one point – including terms as president of the National Steeplechase Foundation.

He gave most of them up a few years later.

Today he's focused on the painstaking work of digitizing the thousands of hours of archival steeplechase footage in his basement library. (TGSF is working with Slater on this project - we've posted a few archived videos on our Facebook page and we're looking to add more. If you'd like to donate to the cost of digitizing steeplechase history, please check our website)

He’s produced several American ‘chasing documentaries, including one on the Maryland Hunt Cup centennial and Americans at Aintree.

Slater won the Maryland Hunt Cup Association’s S. Bryce Wing trophy in 2016.


SAM SLATER masterminded the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation’s educational programs from domestic summer trips to international.

Developing rider tourDeveloping rider tour in 2019: TGSF trip participants Skylar McKenna, Chloe Hannum, Virginia Korrell, and Elizabeth Scully with professional jockey Rachael Blackmore)His wife, Lornie Forbes, junior race series developer Regina Welsh and Slater designed their first trip to Ireland in 2014, and it was by all accounts a steeplechase dreamscape, with working visits to the busy yards of trainers Enda Bolger and Gordon Elliott, tours of Coolmore and Ballydoyle, and going racing at the Galway festival, including a course walk with champion rider Davy Russell. 

“We don’t have any children,” Slater explains, “but we feel like we wanted to do something for the next generation in steeplechasing.”

Forbes had ridden out for Irish trainer Arthur Willie Moore on the Curragh, and “really gained an appreciation for how different – and bigger, it was over there.

Tommy Stack (Red Rum’s jockey) lives near our house there, and though he doesn’t ride any more, he gave the (kids on our trip) an equicizer lesson.

“They loved it.”

They stayed at Slater’s family’s Cahervillahow estate in the Golden Vale region of County Tipperary.

Devel 22019 Ireland trip participant Chloe Hannum riding out with Rachael Blackmore“The intention of this trip was to introduce young amateur American jockeys to how other parts of the world train flat and jump race horses,” he says. “And here’s the best part – these kids are all actively involved in racing today. The program has really worked quite well.” (Pictured, above - )

Here’s what some of the participants had to say about their experience:

Mr. and Mrs. Slater were both so welcoming when we went to Ireland for the camp," said Skylar McKenna. "His house was big and beautiful and had a huge garden. It was an amazing opportunity to go ride for such high profile trainers, I even got to school a set at Gordon Elliott’s and worked two sets at Willie Mullins'.

SkylarSkylar (right) riding at Gordon Elliott's in 201One of the coolest things that happened this year was a mare named Skyace won a grade 1 at Fairyhouse – she’s one of the ones I worked at Willie’s."

Sam and Lornie were extremely generous in sponsoring the trip and hosting us in their beautiful home. It was a wonderful learning experience that opened so many doors in the horse racing industry that probably would have been difficult to open on my own.

It’s not every day you get to work a set with Ruby Walsh (pictured) or chat with Rachael Blackmore in the weighing room!

They’re part owners of Include It, who I won a couple races on this season. That’s a fun way to bring things full circle," said Skylar.

VirginiaVirginia with trainer Jessica Harrington in 2019"Sam and Lornie are definitely two of the nicest people I have ever met," said Virginia Korrell. "They both make a point to say hello to me at the races, and I can never thank them enough for the amazing opportunity to get to go to Ireland and work and school for some of the biggest jump trainers over there.

I would never have (been able to make) the connections in Ireland and spend last winter there riding out for a top point-to-point yard and even get to ride a few races there without the Slaters’ support of the TGSF camp.

TGSF is planning a July 2022 trip to Ireland - stay tuned for more details and keep an eye on our website for updates.



GRANDPARENTS – Miles and Joy Valentine (and the best-silks-ever)

Miles and Joy Valentine were steeplechase owners, breeders, participants – leaders in the U.S., England and Ireland from their home near Unionville.

Their horses raced in Valentine’s famed pink silks with red – more specifically, cerise – hearts.

“They always used them, here and in England and Ireland too,” grandson Sam Slater told Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred’s Joe Clancy. “I remember Richard Pitman (retired jockey and television racing analyst) saying when he wore them if he was riding a favorite that didn’t win, the punters would be blowing kisses at him sarcastically.”

The silks have been seen on American racecourses most recently for the Valentines' granddaughter Joy Slater’s Fat Chance Farm (silks are allowed to “pass through” to the next generation).

Her Flaming Sword has been running at the timber stakes level.

Hall of Fame trainer Burley Cocks and son Winky managed Valentine horses in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

They won the American Grand National four times – High Patches in 1969, Deux Coup in 1977, Tan Jay in 1979 and Down First in 1980.

Cancottage won the Maryland Hunt Cup three times, including with granddaughter Joy Slater as the first woman to win the historic race.

Jacasaba was a standout Valentine handicapper in the 1970s, Chile-bred turf sprinter Jeff a multiple stakes winner and Gala Regatta was a graded stakes winner.

Colonial Cup and Noel Laing winner in 1973, Lucky Boy III was another one brought from Chile.

Irish-born Baronial, stakes winner Winter Wonderland and more carried the Valentine silks to the winner’s circle.

The Valentines inherited French-born Mystic II from an uncle, Mahlon Kline.

A multiple stakes winner in France and the U.S., Mystic was a standout at stud: progeny included 1969 ‘chase earnings leader China Run, champions Life’s Illusion and Soothsayer and Maryland Hunt Cup winners Freeman’s Hill and Bewley’s Hill.

Miles Valentine died in 1978; a race at Fair Hill was named in his honor.

Joy Valentine, who chaired the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association board, received the Ambrose Clark Award in 1982.

She was an avid rider and foxhunter, always side-saddle according to grandson Sam Slater.

She died at age 96 in 2000, and the memorial race now runs in both their memories.

Another son of Mystic II, Burley Cocks-homebred Babamist was out of the Blenheim line mare Babadana.

Babamist performed well on the track, winning four on the flat and four over hurdles (Skip Brittle up.)

After retiring early due to a racing injury, Joy Valentine sent the chrome-splashed chestnut to Frank Chapot to train and show as a jumper.

Upper level event rider Mary Hazzard took an interest in the young horse, hunting him with the Cheshire, eventing him at the upper levels (Fair Hill, Radnor, Chesterland), standing him at stud and even using him as a quiet guest horse.

Even as an entire horse, Babamist went in a rubber snaffle and was always a gentleman, Hazzard told writer Kate Samuels in a 2013 article in Eventing Nation.

Babamist was influential as a sire: he fathered upper level eventers Heyday (Pan Am gold, Olympic silver, World Championships bronze), Good Force, Mystic Mike, Mystic Milo, My Turn, Snowy River, Mystic High, Little Tricky and a host of others, eventers, show horses and ‘chasers.

Joy ValentineJoy Valentine, riding sidesaddle with the Andrews Bridge HoundsSam Slater remembers his grandmother being a typical grandma, loving and kind, “but she was never afraid to speak her mind.”

Sometimes she did it under her breath. Slater recalls a particular day when she was watching Zaccio win, again.

In 1977, trainer Burley Cocks bought Zaccio for $25,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga as a yearling for the Valentines, but he was among horses sold in a 1979 dispersal after Miles Valentine died. He sold to other Cocks clients, Bunny and Lewis Murdock.

Zaccio was rounding the final bend in a grade 1 hurdle stake one day.

“It was obvious he was going to win,” yet again, Slater says. “My grandmother said it quietly, but she said it. ‘Damn it.’ ”


ANCESTOR – Samuel Slater, industrial spy

Samuel Slater, 1768-1835, may be American steeplechasing’s Joy and Sam Slater’s great-x3 grandfather – and Sam’s namesake, but to industrial development in the then-youthful United States, he's a lot more than that.

Slater was born in Derbyshire, England, fifth son in a typically large farming family.

At age 10, he went to work at a cotton mill using then-modern water frame machinery.

Slater heard there was huge interest in the new United States to develop similar machines, but he also knew there was a British law against exporting machine designs.

He recognized the unique opportunity to ply his knowledge, memorizing as much as he could and departing for New York in 1789.

He later became known as “Slater the Traitor” in his home village for the information he fed to a Rhode Island mill owner to modernize his Pawtucket factory.

The result, in 1793, was the first successful water-powered roller spinning textile mill in America.

In 1812, Slater built the Old Green Mill in Webster, Mass., employing what became known as the Rhode Island System of factory practices based upon family life patterns and a big child labor force in New England.

In 1791, Slater married Hannah Wilkinson; she invented two-ply thread, in 1793 becoming the first American woman to be granted a patent.

In 1799, he was joined by brother John Slater from England, a wheelwright, and they expanded operations into Connecticut and expanded production to include iron for machinery construction.

Slater died in 1835.

Slater's original mill still stands, known today as Slater Mill and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is operated as a museum dedicated to preserving Samuel Slater's history and contributions to American industry.

Slater's original mill in Pawtucket and the town of Slatersville are both parts of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, created to preserve and interpret the history of the industrial development of the region.

His papers are held at the Harvard Business School's Baker Library.


GREAT-GRANDMOTHER – Jessie Drew-Bear, self-taught artist

Jessie Drew-Bear was born in England in 1877.

A young mother and divorcee, she immigrated with her young daughter, Joy (future Joy Valentine) to the U.S. in 1905.

A woman well before her time, she started her own business; the Philadelphia Flower Shop operated on Chestnut Street more than 40 years.

At age 59, in 1938 Drew-Bear received a simple, beginner paint set from Joy for Christmas. It sparked a remarkable career.

She trained with Philadelphia artist Arthur B. Carles, later, briefly, working with French artist Fernand Leger, but Drew-Bear was largely self-taught.

Her art imitated her colorful life and surpassed the confines of any genre: Drew-Bear was frequently inspired by literature, theater, firework displays, social events and visits to Venice, Italy.

She traveled extensively in Europe, Central America and South America and would often rent an apartment for months at a time.

Drew-Bear was known for embracing new experiences – in her 70s in the late 1950s, she learned to scuba dive so she could paint marine life.

She died in 1962, and her works are still often shown at area galleries.

The ground-breaking careers following the tail-female line are no surprise given Drew-Bear's pre-feminist movement business acumen.

ANCESTOR – Mahlon Kline sort of started the story

Miles Valentine’s uncle Mahlon Kline (1846-1909) owned both flat and jump race horses in the U.S. and Ireland in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Vincent O’Brien trained for him in Ireland.

A bachelor with no children who became one of the nation’s most influential pharmaceutical producers, Kline left his entire stable to Miles Valentine when he died in 1909.

It started the family’s long connection with Ireland and racing, both here and there.

Kline was born in Windsor, Pa. He studied at Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie.

In 1865, he went to work for the Smith and Shoemaker pharmaceutical company.

In 1875, the business became Smith Kline and Co., under Kline's leadership becoming the third-largest pharmaceutical business in the U.S.

He was also active in state politics, in 1905 made treasurer of Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Party.

He died in 1909.

His legacy lives on through the Mahlon Kline Orthopedic and Rehabilitation building at the New Bolton Center which opened in 1972.

The building includes surgical suites, an indoor anesthetic recovery pool and a recovery barn.

The pool is 22 feet wide and 11 feet deep, with a life raft to accommodate a resting horse head and four horse legs and a lift and rail system to take a horse from the surgical table, into the raft and into the pool, then out of the pool into a recovery stall.

Mother – Jill Fanning built on the family legacy

Joy Valentine’s daughter from her first marriage to Burnet Landreth Jr., Joy Landreth Fanning has always been known as Jill.

Born in 1927, she’s credited for sparking an interest in riding in her parents when she started riding and foxhunting in her youth, and, later, in her two children, Sam and Joy.

Fanning eventually became joint-master and field master for the Essex Foxhounds in N.J., positions she held more than two decades in the ‘50s,’60s and ‘70s.

She hunted regularly in the U.S. and Ireland until just a few years before she died.

She rode in ladies point-to-points in the ‘50s and ‘60s and trained many top timber horses.

One of her best was homebred Freeman’s Hill, who like another homebred, Bewley’s Hill, won the Maryland Hunt Cup, and she owned Trapper John, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1990.

But Fanning’s best-known training coup came in 1980 – with an encore in 1981, when she trained her mother’s Cancottage to win the Maryland Hunt Cup with her daughter Joy Slater aboard.

Joy Slater was the first woman to win the race in 1980, winning again with Cancottage, in 1981.

She would have been in the irons in the 1983 Hunt Cup, but Joy Slater took a hard fall in the Grand National the week before.

Charlie Fenwick got the ride on Cancottage, winning a third Hunt Cup and taking permanent possession of the challenge trophy for Joy Valentine.

Joy Slater was back in the tack for Cancottage’s 1984 New Jersey Hunt Cup and Pennsylvania Hunt Cup wins.

Jill Fanning hunted Cancottage when he retired after the 1985 Hunt Cup (third), riding him through the 1998 hunt season. He was put down in 1999 at age 29.

Married to Philip Fanning for 27 years, Jill Fanning died March 23, 2003.

Philip Ford Nieukirk Fanning earned a Purple Heart in World War II, attending Princeton when he returned home.

A longtime member of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, Fanning’s Ivy Dell Stud produced champion Great Hunter and homebred half-sisters, Gold Glove and Oh My Pride that won Maryland Million races.

Phil Fanning rode Polly Denckla’s Ned’s Flying to win the 1958 Maryland Hunt Cup. (Ned’s Flying won in 1957 under Gene Weymouth.)

He died in 2016.

Evening Mail – fast, scopey and very versatile.

Though she didn’t have him in the barn when he was eventing, Jill Fanning still gets credit for training the only horse to ever get around the Badminton and Burghley three-day event courses and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Evening Mail, owned and ridden by U.S. Equestrian Federation official Sally Ike, started his career as an eventer, jumping around England’s Badminton and Burghley.

But when Ike began working for Jill Fanning, she was encouraged to try steeplechasing with the gray jumping specialist.

Ike first rode Evening Mail herself, winning ladies timber races at Essex, Radnor and Brandywine point-to-points.

Olympic show jumper Frank Chapot took the ride for his 1973 campaign – they finished second in the secondary race at the Grand National then finished third in Morning Mac’s Maryland Hunt Cup a week later.

CahervillahowCahervillahowJoy Valentine’s Irish-born Cahervillahow (pronounced “car- villa-how” – named for the Valentine’s home in Tipperary, Ireland) won eight races over eight seasons racing in Ireland and England, including six graded races over hurdles and ‘chase fences.

He was trained by Mouse Morris, chiefly ridden by Charlie Swan.

In 1991, he finished second at the Cheltenham festival, two weeks later he was beaten a short head in a thriller for the Irish Grand National.

Three weeks after that, he was disqualified after battling up the Sandown hill to past the post first in the Whitbread Gold Cup (pictured, above).

Appeals were rejected despite overwhelming commentary and public opinion in his favor.

In 1993, the talented bay son of Deep Run finished second in the English Grand National.

That was the year the race was marred by two false starts, a group of 30 (of 39 that went to post) that ignored officials trying to stop them and an ultimate voiding of the result.

Cahervillahow hit the board in the Hennessy at Newbury in 1990 and ‘93, the 1993 Whitbread, the Melling Chase at Aintree in 1990, Thyestes at Gowran Park in 1991 and the Ericsson at Leopardstown in 1992.

Sister – Steeplechase trendsetter Joy Slater

Joy Slater didn’t consider it a competition, but she definitely rivaled her mother and grandmother as the most accomplished distaffer in the family.

Joy Slater on ShindigJoy Slater on ShindigEarly in her riding career, Joy Slater showed on the circuit, including pony show jumping in Ireland. At age 18, in 1971 she won the American Horse Shows Association Medal finals.

She started racing in 1970, beginning in point-to-points and shifting to sanctioned races as opportunities continued to open for female riders.

Slater was the first woman to win a sanctioned timber race, Moe Greene at Fair Hill in 1976, and then became the first woman to win the Maryland Hunt Cup – Cancottage in 1980.

She rode extensively in the U.S., Ireland and England and remains the only American woman to ride in the English Grand National – a faller at Bechers Brook with King Spruce in 1983.

Slater’s race career ended in 1987; today she shows and hunts and serves on the Devon Horse Show Foundation board.

When digging around her attic last year, Joy Slater found the original sketch of the 1931 Maryland Hunt Cup course map.

In a fundraising effort spearheaded by Bill Pearce, it was professionally reproduced and printed on archival paper, 20 by 10 ½ inches.

The limited edition was sold as numbered prints – 60, earning more than $5,000 to benefit the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation.


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