The Iroquois Steeplechase recently marked the official start of the pre-race season with the announcement of its 2017 Child Ambassador at the organization’s annual spring luncheon at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Run by the nonprofit Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation, the Iroquois Steeplechase designated Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt its primary beneficiary in 1981 and has since contributed more than $10 million to the Hospital with proceeds collected from the annual May event.
Ten-year-old Ansley McLaurin of Hendersonville, Tenn. was introduced as this year’s Child Ambassador and will serve as the face of Children’s Hospital on race day, helping raise awareness for the facility at which she began receiving treatment for a rare cancer a few months shy of her third birthday.
Diagnosed with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a cancer of the lungs, Ansley endured 52 weeks of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and surgery to remove part of her lung. More than five years after completing the intensive treatment regimen, she still visits the hospital regularly for check-ins with her care team but enjoys a high quality of life overall. Her passion for ballet is quickly evident in the way she carries herself.
“Ansley was so young when we first started coming to Children’s Hospital that she doesn’t fully understand the reasons but knows it’s a part of her life,” said Ansley’s mother, Amy McLaurin. “We talk often about how this experience is in God’s plan for us, and having the opportunity to now be involved with Steeplechase and do our part to give back to the hospital is part of the plan. If it weren’t for the world-class care team and facilities at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, I am confident that our lives would be drastically different today.”
Also recognized at the luncheon -- attended by Steeplechase sponsors, Race Committee members and other patrons -- were this year’s honorary chairs, Marianne and Andrew Byrd and Luke Gregory. Each year, the Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt appoint individuals with close ties to their respective organizations as honorary chairs of Steeplechase to recognize their efforts toward advancing the Iroquois Steeplechase as a philanthropic and world-class sporting event.
Marianne and Andrew Byrd are longtime patrons of both the Iroquois Steeplechase and Children’s Hospital. Growing up attending the races and only having missed the event twice since she was 10 years old, Marianne has served in nearly every supporting role possible with the Iroquois Steeplechase, eventually joining the Race Committee and heading up the Race Office in the weeks prior to the event -- both positions which she still holds today.
Andrew Byrd served as a member of what is now known as the Children’s Hospital Advisory Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including two years as chairman. As founder of private equity firm TVV Capital, he sponsored the Iroquois Society hospitality tent for six years and recently signed on as new title sponsor for the TVV-Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge, a partnership founded in 2015 between the Iroquois Steeplechase and Cheltenham Racecourse in England to re-ignite the transatlantic rivalry that has been a part of steeplechase racing through history.
Luke Gregory is the CEO of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and is in his 35th year of health care management. He is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, holds degrees from Emory University, Vanderbilt University and Georgia State University, and has received numerous professional accolades including being named a finalist for the Nashville Business Journal Most Admired CEOs and Companies. As CEO of Children’s Hospital, which is nationally ranked in all medical, surgical and nursing specialties, Gregory has overseen the organization’s expansion to twenty locations across Tennessee.
Dwight Hall, Chairman of the Iroquois Steeplechase Race Committee, said the honorary chairs are an integral part of the event each year and a unique way to recognize those who have been significant contributors to its continued success.
“The Iroquois Steeplechase is fortunate to have the support of so many who are pillars in the community such as Luke, Andrew and Marianne,” Hall said. “All three are more than deserving of the role.”
Another highlight of the luncheon was the reveal of the year’s official race day painting. Titled “Soaring” by 2017 Featured Artist Debbie Sampson, the vivid three-dimensional piece -- inspired by photos from the Iroquois Steeplechase in previous years -- was created using palette knives and oil paints to depict three horses careening over a brush fence. The painting will be auctioned off at the Steeplechase Pre-Race Party, to be held in the new Fox Den tent on the race grounds at Percy Warner Park on the evening of Friday, May 12.
The 76th Iroquois Steeplechase will take place Saturday, May 13. Tickets are on sale now, offering a variety of price points and experiences -- from $20 for general admission to $85 for infield tickets, $600 for tailgating spaces and several VIP options scaling in price. To purchase, go to www.iroquoissteeplechase.org or call (615) 591-2991.