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The extraordinary beauty of its setting in the Loyalhanna Valley, some 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, makes the Rolling Rock hunt race meeting one of the most splendid of its kind. There the blue autumn mists hug the Pennsylvania mountains, and the foliage is barely beginning to turn. The outdoor spectacle is gilded by the richest purses of any hunt race meet. Naturally, the best steeplechasers and timber horses are drawn to the site, and present there now are such top contenders as Richard K. Mellon's home-bred Chambourg, and John M. Schiff's Carafar.
The running of the International Gold Cup, which qualifies its first three winners for England's Grand National, is the meet's most important event, not only in a monetary sense (it is the richest) or in terms of prestige (it is the most difficult), but also for historic reasons. If Richard King Mellon's Glengesia had not won the event in 1931, the race and the Rolling Rock course might not exist today.
As it happened, Mr. Mellon's gray gelding was the second winner of a $4,000 perpetual challenge trophy offered by the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, as the award in the international steeplechase held at Grasslands, Tennessee. For a few years it seemed as if he would not only be the second but the last winner, because with the 1931 meet the Grasslands' committee had scraped their last sous from the till and could not continue.
At this point Mellon decided to build the course at Rolling Rock, which includes American timber, English hurdles, brush and water jumps—tests for all kinds of fast jumping horses. In between races, possibly as a reminder of the pursuit from which the sport of steeplechasing emerged, fox hunting, the prize-winning hounds of the hunt are paraded.
As spectacular as is the race meeting, as fine as are the horses and hounds of the hunt, these are still only some of the facilities of Rolling Rock, and the Rolling Rock Club is only a small section of the 18,000 acres comprising the Rolling Rock Farms, home of the Mellons.
The club was originally started by Mr. Richard Beatty Mellon, father of Major General Richard King Mellon, as a rural retreat for his friends and family to hunt, fish and ride. From this it steadily developed into an establishment that, in addition to the usual country club necessities—swimming pool and golf course—also boasted stocked trout streams, duck ponds, game birds, deer herds, shooting ranges, ski slopes with lifts and an ice rink at the mountain's summit. The ski and skating facilities are open to the general public, but the remainder of this sportsman's paradise is restricted to carefully selected club members. The major upkeep of the extensive holdings has been provided for in a special trust fund set up by the late Mr. Mellon.
Although the father thought mainly in terms of hunting with a gun, the son was more inclined to hunting with horse and hound, so in the early 1920s he went to England to buy a pack and establish good fox hunting around home. So great was his concern for his new dogs that while on shipboard he made arrangements to have them fed by the head chef. His enthusiasm for the sport aroused such interest that soon the Rolling Rock Hunt was represented in a horse show—for the occasion its members purchased scarlet coats but made the error of wearing black ties instead of traditional white stocks. In a relatively short time, however, the hunt could boast one of the outstanding packs in the U.S. as well as take pride in its most properly turned out field.
As a horse-show judge and a breeder of hunters and Thoroughbreds, Mellon gained an enviable reputation. Several of his entries ran in the Grand National at Aintree, greatest of all steeplechases, and his Alike was a winner of the Irish Grand National.
It is through no whim then that Mellon has kept the King of Spain Cup in competition. To the handful of horsemen who work for the minute of triumph in the Rolling Rock winners' circle, his gesture was that of an unusual sportsman. To the thousands of spectators who yearly arrive for a day in the autumn air, to enjoy the rich valley and its equine guests, it was a gesture that has turned a fall day into a great event.