Whether you have been standing on Members Hill for years or this is your first experience with race day, there are a few traditions no one should miss at the Virginia Gold Cup Race on May 6, 2017.
The traditions run deep during the Gold Cup, and with good reason. The race had its first running in 1922 and by 1924 had a home at the Broadview near Warrenton, Virginia. Thanks to the change in attitude concerning horse racing around the turn of the century, the Gold Cup became the place to see and be seen.
The Gold Cup moved to the Great Meadow in 1985, and there found its permanent 200-acre home. The best of the traditions moved along with the race. Keep reading to learn more about four traditions you won’t want to miss.
The day of festivities kicks off with dog races, which are simultaneously extremely serious and absolutely hilarious. The Jack Russell terrier races spark the fire of competition and help to set the mood for the day’s races.
“The Jack Russell terriers run around a mini-course,” Gold Cup spokesperson Sophie Scheps said. “The dogs are very competitive. It’s an event that kids love since it all happens in a small enclosure and is easy for everyone to see.”
The action begins as the terriers bolt from the gates and fly over a series of jumps designed to mimic the fences horses will leap later in the day. The lure – which looks like the tail of a small furry creature – is attached to a wire which runs the length of the race and leads the dogs over the fences, to the finish line.
You surely know the steeplechase races aren’t your run-of-the-mill horse race. A steeplechase is a distance horse race in which jockeys steer horses over jumps and obstacles. But did you know the name is derived from early races where the start of the course was near a church steeple?
There are eight races total during the day and the fifth race is the Gold Cup. It is the largest of the day with the largest purse winnings. The schedule of races allows about a 45-minute gap between the beginnings of each race.
“The people who are true steeple fans may come to watch a specific horse, trainer, or jockey,” Sophie said. “Between each the races, the gap allows you to check out tailgates, walk around to visit with friends, or shop in the Vendor Village. The village usually has elegant and beautiful hats for sale and sometimes good cigars, among other things.”
You’ve never seen tailgating before if you haven’t seen it at the Virginia Gold Cup. Elaborate themes show off the great passion the tailgaters have for their tailgates and the time-honored tradition of race day.
The contest is judged by a panel of local food and television personalities and sponsored by West Belmont Place at the National Conference Center. The winner receives a coveted private dining experience at the event center. However, only the most passionate tailgaters can snag the bragging rights by winning this contest.
“Anyone who has reserved a tailgate is eligible to enter,” Sophie said. “The themes are incredible – I saw one tailgate where the theme was ‘the Secret Garden’ and they brought a beautiful handcrafted arbor and arrangements to create a real, lush garden inside their space. Fine china, silver and crystal are some things you shouldn’t be surprised to see.”
When the judges come by to judge the tailgates, they will find huge displays of easy-to-eat food such as crudités, honey-ham biscuits, and fancy sandwiches. You’ll also often find the official drink of the Gold Cup – the Mint Julep – as well as other specialty cocktails and Sangria served by the designated tailgate bartender.
Best Hat Contest
Fine and elegant hats have been a staple in American race day attire since the late 19th century. As public opinion shifted toward the belief that race tracks were a place where people of style could go to “be seen,” people’s imaginations were allowed to run wild with hats for both men and women.
Due to the popularity of incredible hats, the traditional Hat Contest was born and is sponsored this year by Paul Henry Windows. You can join in the tradition by entering the contest in one of the five categories: best racing theme, funniest or most outrageous, most glamorous or elegant, best child’s hat, or best men’s showing.
The fun and excitement take place at 2:15 p.m. in the paddock and all you need is a hat to celebrate the tradition of racing and spring to enter. If your tickets are located in either the north or south areas of the course just inform the staff at the gates you are headed to the contest.
Be Seen on Race Day
The traditions of the Virginia Gold Cup are full of passion from both the race fans and those who come to socialize. Immerse yourself in the traditions and you will find yourself preparing to come back year after year. In doing so, you will find yourself among celebrities and high-level politicians.
While you’re exploring the grounds on race day, stop by and see the folks at the Paul Henry Windows sponsor tent and show off your hat or have a chat about your favorite tailgate themes. We’re excited to enjoy race day with you.