HOTSEAT- Saddled off: Foxfield's 'Finch' won't ride horses

Benjamin Dick is Foxfield's Atticus Finch. For years, now, he's battled for the rights of horse lovers to enjoy a race on a nice spring day without the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or Mothers Against Drunk Driving threatening to shut down the tailgating. He wants an event with tent bashes like the ones Montpelier seems to pull off without a hitch.

And if Dick has his way, the Foxfield beloved by boozy collegians who urinate on the side of Garth Road will become a thing of the past.

Of course, crackdowns at Foxfield have become de rigueur in the past few years. Despite efforts at education and spending thousands of dollars on private security, Dick calls a brawl at last year's race involving law students "the worst I've seen at Foxfield in 25 years."

Will the 2006 spring races be any different?

This year, the Albemarle County police will be inside the gates to put the brakes on public drunkenness, underage drinking, and the uncouth behavior of what Dick calls "the shot generation."

"We smoked the peace pipe," says Foxfield's colorful president, who's long lambasted the Albemarle force's reluctance to come inside the Foxfield gates over the past 13 years.

Dick blames Foxfield's pie-eyed reputation on the demise of Easters, UVA's notorious debauch that ended in 1982. Students looked for a rite of spring. "Like a flock of ducks," he says, "they came out to Foxfield and landed."

Dick started working with Foxfield in 1979, when hired by its founder, Mariane de Tejeda. She reportedly liked Dick's legal prowess, his Virginia roots, and his horse background– his grandfather raised and broke thoroughbreds– and made him president and legal counsel.

Foxfield isn't the only legal front that keeps Dick in the hot seat. Last year, he successfully defended his law school classmate, John Ames, who was charged with first-degree murder for shooting his neighbor, Perry Brooks, in a notorious Caroline County blood feud detailed last fall in the Washington Post Magazine.

Dick says he had heard about the contentious relationship since 1988. When Ames called to say Brooks had threatened to kill him, "I told him, damn, you'd better start packing a gun," recalls Dick, who won a self defense acquittal.

He credits To Kill a Mockingbird's Finch for getting him into the law business. Around eighth grade one summer, he started hanging out in court watching trials. When a friend's father was murdered, "I was struck by both lawyers," he says.

After a stint at VMI and during the height of the Vietnam War, Dick served two years in the Army. He picked up his affinity for Stetson hats at Fort Leavenworth by hanging with army colonels.

"You had to drink their gin, smoke their Camels, and wear their Stetsons," he explains.

There's one challenge Dick shies away from: horseback riding. He broke his wrist in five places in the service. "My grandfather said once you get seriously hurt on a horse, you should never ride. The next horse would know it.

"I'm not," he admits, "from the get-back-on-that-horse-and-ride school."

Age: Old enough to know better

Why here? Was it women, or the fact it's beautiful, charming horse country and a historical community? Maybe the latter.

What's worst about living here? Worsening traffic and already high grocery prices rising

Favorite hangout? Close quarters restaurants with lots of people, such as the C&O or Fellini's, and at a very good movie or play.

Most overrated virtue?

People thinking I'm thinking the problem through, and I'm going to always get it right

People would be surprised to know: I enjoy reading at home in bed– histories, biographies, poetry, and literature with the television off after a rough day.

What would you change about yourself? Being too quick on the draw. I need to slow down and just listen, particularly with my teenage children.

Proudest accomplishment? Several. Serving my country as a captain, U.S. Intelligence Command; my children; and being the first in the Dick genealogy to be a lawyer who won arguments before the Virginia Supreme Court, U.S. District courts, and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

People find most annoying about you: Pressing a point too hard and being silly over it

Whom do you admire? The Founding Fathers and any jockey riding a horse over brush and fence jumping at 35-40 miles an hour in a mile- or two-mile steeplechase race.

Favorite book? For what it teaches about the greatest generation, No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Subject that causes you to rant? Religion and politics. People who will not practice what they preach and pass big judgments.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? When the Hubble Telescope was retooled and fixed in outer space, photographing celestial marvels such as bursting stars and nebulae making incredible colors, proving to us Earthlings that something much bigger than us is out there being both heavenly and soul-stirring.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? We are seeing the unfolding of a mini-Vietnam in Iraq with rising American soldier casualties and hideous killings of Iraqi people by Iraqi people and by fanatic religious insurgents. Insanity.

What do you drive? A second-hand 1991 Mercedes that's still in style

In your car CD player right now: Bach, Mozart, and Elvis' greatest love songs

Next journey? Europe or the USA on extended road trip.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Standing up twice a high school girl I really wanted to date because I fell asleep after unloading 500 pieces of pipe on two successive Fridays working for my dad.

Regret: I have not revisited Europe since college days.

Favorite comfort food: Chocolate anything with black coffee

Always in your refrigerator: Food for the grill

Must-see TV: American movie classics, and Jon Stewart's Daily Show

Favorite cartoon: Far Side

Describe a perfect day. Being lazy under white clouds with silver linings passing through a crystal-blue sky and then moving into vivid night stars, accented by a warm breeze in mountain or ocean venues in the spring, summer or fall.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Being a notable and quotable writer and thinker of some importance to others

Who'd play you in the movie? Someone between a Richard Burton, Jack Nicholson, and Peter Sellers

Most embarrassing moment? After losing a lot of weight for health issues, my old pants dropped to my ankles while I held an arm full of groceries in a grocery store, scaring a poor old lady.

Best advice you ever got? In honor of my VMI classic literature professor, Herbert N. Dillard, now deceased: "If you don't get it, read on."

Favorite bumper sticker? Be at peace and peace be with you.

Benjamin Dick