One can argue that the main attraction at the 81st annual Radnor Hunt Races won't be a heavily favored thoroughbred or even a well-dressed spectator.

The headliner of Saturday's festivities at the Radnor Hunt Club in Malvern might be legendary horse trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

The West Grove resident, who was born in England, is to horse racing what Vince Lombardi was to the NFL and what Red Auerbach was to the NBA.

"Jonathan Sheppard is a guy who reaches across the two sports," former jockey Sean Clancy said of Sheppard's dominance in both steeplechase and flat-track racing. "He's in the Hall of Fame as a steeplechase trainer. But his success on the flat is extraordinary.

"He is an icon in steeplechase racing, and he's also an icon in flat racing."

This weekend, the 70-year-old will have four horses competing in the Radnor Hunt Races.

Two of them - Italian Wedding and Triplekin - will compete in the National Hunt Cup, the event's marquee race.

The race covers 23/8 miles and has a purse of $50,000.

Parker's Project and Port Morsbey are the other Sheppard-trained horses at Radnor Hunt. They will compete in the Vita C. Thompson Memorial. The allowance race also covers 23/8 miles and has a $30,000 purse.

"I like Radnor because it keeps me close to where I live," Sheppard said. "I rode there as a jockey when I was riding. I have raced horses there almost every year since I've been training. And I get to see a lot of local people that I don't often get to see."

That's because, with more than 100 horses to train, he averages four to five days a week on the road.

This week, Sheppard was in Camden, S.C., and Erie. He was scheduled to travel back to the Philadelphia area on Friday.

As his success indicates, he's compiling much more than frequent-flier miles.

Even though his speciality is flat-track racing, he's regarded as the leading American steeplechase trainer of all time.

In September, Sheppard became the first trainer to send out 1,000 steeplechase winners in the United States. He believes that he now has 1,010 victories.

"I think the second guy is like at 400" victories, Clancy said. "That's how far and away he's set records and done things in our sport that will never be touched."

The son of a racing official, Sheppard came to America to train horses in 1966 because British rules did not allow family members of racing officials to train outside clients.

Through the years, he has been named the U.S. champion jumps trainer 24 times.

Sheppard holds the record for the most Colonial Cup steeplechase wins at 11. Sheppard also trained the winners of four Breeders' Cup Grand National steeplechase events. And he's the only trainer to win the American steeplechase Triple Crown. He accomplished that feat with Flatterer in 1983.

Some might argue that Sheppard's steeplechase success doesn't compare to his sending out more than 2,400 winners on the flat track.

"I surprised myself there," he said of his success as a trainer. "Actually, if my father [Daniel] was still alive, I think he would say I surprised him, too."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog, "OwlsInq," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

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