With over 60,000 guests in attendance every year, the Virginia Gold Cup is the pinnacle of steeple-chasing. For those not native to the Virginia horse country, steeple-chasing might not be familiar. Yet the sport, a horse race across a closed course with obstacles, is known for its prestige in the United States’ sporting history.
The Virginia Gold Cup, which takes place in the Plains, is no exception. The cup, known for its competitive sportsmanship and preppy hats (à la the Kentucky Derby) is the “crown jewel of American steeplechasing,” according to George Strawbridge, former president of the National Steeplechase Museum.
This year, the cup is celebrating its 97th anniversary on May 7. Here’s your breakdown of everything happening on race day.
Gates open. Heading to the racetrack from the DMV area? Make sure to nab a ticket on the North Side, which has views of the final turn of the race. If you’re coming from the Richmond, Winchester, or Fredericksburg areas, get a South Side ticket, with easy access just off Route 17.
To sit among the who’s who of steeplechase, secure a spot on the Members Hill. Watch the horses and their riders whizz by as they circle the paddock before the race, and then enjoy spectacular views of the race itself from a tent.
Head to your seats, because the race is about to begin. Opening ceremony performances begin at this time, with singing of the National Anthem and the presentation of colors by St. Andrew’s Society Pipes and Drums.
Tailgate contest begins. Walk among the colorful stalls to see the competition, complete with china sets and floral arrangements. This isn’t your run-of-the mill tailgate. Picture linen tablecloths and plentiful hors-d’oeuvre spreads instead of cheap beers and paper plates.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for: the races begin. If you’re feeling confident, stop by one of the betting stations and place a wager on any of the races. Then, head back to the racetrack and get ready to see your horse (hopefully) cross the finish line first. Not sure who to bet on? Don’t worry, you have seven races going on throughout the afternoon to put your money on.
Hat contest begins. Sip a mint julep to cool yourself in the mid-day Virginia heat down as you watch the judges deliberate which hat is the most stylish (spoiler alert: it’s probably the one with the most ostrich feathers). Hat and tailgate winners get announced at 3:45 p.m. If you’re selected by the judges, tout the winning sash around the race grounds to give you automatic bragging rights.
The races continue. Make sure to catch at least a few of the fourth through seventh races happening over the next few hours, each with their own unique jumps and obstacles. If you’ve happened to win any of your wagers, head back to one of the betting stations to claim your winnings.
Turn your attention to the Jumbotrons to watch the Kentucky Derby. Probably the most well-known horse race in the United States, the Gold Cup gives guests the option to watch this Louisville tradition live from the stands in the Plains. Maybe you’ll even spot someone wearing the same hat as you on TV.
Gates close. Hopefully, you’ve gotten your fill of steeplechase racing today. Sleep well tonight with visions of men clad in brightly-colored uniforms and prize-winning horses dancing in your head.
If you don’t have the time to head to the Plains, or you’d prefer to save some money while still getting in on the action, check out the event live stream, available on Mandolin, for just $10. Starting at 12:30 p.m. on race day, you can take in the spectacle that is the Virginia Gold Cup, all from the comfort of your home.
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