Brandywine Hills salutes Leslie Falini Young

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Family matters. Leslie Falini Young with father Dominick, mother Peggy, children, Rory, Tom and CeCe and husband Paddy Young. (photo courtesy of Leslie Young)

Brandywine Hills, the oldest race of its kind in the Delaware Valley, is known for its long- time tradition of participation and support from many local families. It’s also been the starting point for more than one leader and champion in equestrian sports.

Unionville based steeplechase trainer Leslie Falini Young is one of these leaders. As a rider, she won 16 of 43 races from 1979-1991. She is the trainer of 2019 NSA timber titlist Andi’Amu, 2017 NSA champ Lady Blanco, 2014 NSA champ Bittersweetheart, and 2013 Virginia Steeplechase horse of the year Gustavian (also an Eclipse finalist).

Leslie got her start in equestrian sports because of family, friends, and the Brandywine horse community -and family, friends, and that community have continued to be extremely important in her life.

Born and raised in West Chester, Leslie is from a family of avid riders. Her parents, Dominick and Peggy Falini, hunted with the old Brandywine Hounds, and Dominick rode in point-to-points. From the beginning, both of her parents encouraged Leslie’s equestrian aspirations – pony club, fox hunting and pony racing.

Her parents were enthusiastic members of Brandywine, and when she was only four years old, she went with them on her very first hunt – riding to the Brandywine hounds on her black pony named Daffodil. Memories of that day are still vivid.

“I remember Mrs. Watson calling me Daffodil,” says Leslie with a smile. “And John White was a great Huntsman.”

Leslie continued to ride, and she excelled in the saddle. She won gold at the Pony Club Eastern Pennsylvania Region eventing rally with her C-3 team and was nationally ranked in girls tetrathlon. She also rode the DelMarVa pony race circuit, claiming year-end titles on ponies small and large.

In high school, Leslie worked for Hall of Fame Trainers Jonathan Sheppard and Jack Fisher, while also excelling at lacrosse and field hockey, and making All-Stars and All- American for both. After graduating from Lynchburg College with a degree in health science and athletic training, Leslie returned to Pennsylvania, and began a career as a physical therapist and also as the lacrosse coach for a championship high school girls team. Leslie left the horse world behind.

Yet… with all great passions, the call to return is irresistible. Leslie was at a party after the Brandywine Hills Point to Point when it struck her that she missed horses very much. And then, it was off to the races! Leslie got a job galloping for Jonathan Sheppard, and with the same tenacity, passion, and determination she’s shown since the days of Daffodil, set off on the long road to becoming a leading trainer.

Leslie met Irish Jump Jockey (and later Five Time Steeplechase Champion) Paddy Young in Pennsylvania in 2003, and they became great friends who shared a similar outlook on life and the same passions and goals. Everything clicked – and they married in 2007. It was a happy and busy time. Leslie got her trainer’s license in 2007, their son Rory was born in 2008, and daughter CeCe was born in 2009. Paddy’s older son Tom joined them in the U.S., and the team was all together, working, thriving, and winning in the racing world.

Training powerful, excitable thoroughbred steeplechase horses would seem to most a daunting task. To Leslie, the toughest thing about being a trainer has nothing to do with the animals. “Sometimes, you need a degree in psychology to deal with the owners and staff. The horses are the fun and easy part!”

Some of this leading trainer’s most meaningful wins? Rahsaan’s G1 at New York Turf Writers Saratoga, Andi’amus Virginia Gold Cup win, Tomgarrow and Monbeg Streams, both My Lady’s Manor wins and Lady Blancos’ Far Hills Fill’s stake win.

Leslie recently returned from the Cheltenham Festival in England. “It was amazing!” she said, “I’ve never had a runner in the UK, and I would love to one day. Watching Honeysuckle and Constitution Hills’ wins – Spectacular!”

In everyone’s life, there are challenges, and Leslie’s has been no exception. When husband Paddy suffered a traumatic, life changing fall at Radnor Hunt Races in 2017, his recovery was long and difficult. Friends and the steeplechase community joined together and pooled their time and efforts to provide what help they could to Paddy and Leslie and their family.

How did Leslie deal with the challenges, adversity and disappointments that resulted from Paddy’s injury? “Through determination,” says Leslie, “and wanting to set a good example for my children and to make my parents proud.”

Again, the anchor of family and community. Which brings this story back to Brandywine Hills. Will Leslie have a runner there? “Weather depending, we might have a ladies timber horse. I haven’t had any runners at Brandywine in the past. I mainly trained hurdle horses and we would be at a NSA meet down south on the same day. Now we have more timber horses, so I look forward to hopefully having a runner this year at Brandywine Hills.”

On the horizon, Leslie also looks forward to welcoming some new horses into her barn. “We have some exciting new horses coming, in and some old stars returning.” It looks like Leslie Young’s star is going to keep shining.

Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point will run on Saturday, April 1. Go to www.brandywineredclay.dorg.

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