By Michael Balderston
Virginia is off to the races this weekend as Great Meadow in The Plains will host the 77th annual International Gold Cup, often referred to as the crown jewel of the fall steeplechase season. Upwards of 45,000 people are expected to head down to The Plains to attend the event that will feature tailgating, wacky hats and exciting horse races.
If you’re one of those planning to attend here are some vital bits of information for the event as well as some fun facts to make you the hit at your tailgate.
What is Steeplechase?
Steeplechase is defined as a distance horse race in which competitors are required to jump diverse fence and ditch obstacles. The term comes from the early days of the event when the race would often originate from one church steeple to another. Steeplechase is most popular in the U.K., Ireland, France, Australia, Canada and the U.S.
There are two forms of steeplechase in the U.S., hurdle and timber. Hurdle is a race that almost exclusively uses National Fences – standardized plastic and steel fences that stand 52 inches tall and run around two to three miles. Timber races use solid, immovable fences that can top at five feet high and range from three to four miles.
The Gold Cup is one of the only events in Virginia that allows for parimutuel betting, or more simply put the system of gambling where all bets are placed into a single pool and payoff odds are derived from the entire pool. It is the standard way to gamble on horse racing.
That’s the broad view, if you plan on making a bet you need to know these terms:
o Win – the horse must finish first
o Place – the horse must finish first or second (you collect the amount for second)
o Show – the horse must finish first, second or third (you collect the amount for third)
o Exacta – You must pick the horses that finish first and second in exact order
o Trifecta – You must pick the horses that finish first, second and third in exact order
Self-service terminals will be located on both the North and South side of the track as well as on Members Hill. The minimum bet for any race is $2. Betting stations open at 10 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m.
Gold Cup History
The first ever International Gold Cup took place at Grassland Downs in Tennessee in 1930. The King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, attended the Gold Cup that year and rewarded a spectacular gold trophy to the winner. That same trophy, appropriately called the King of Spain trophy, is still awarded annually to the winner.
The International Gold Cup has moved around a bit in its history. Originating in Tennessee, the race was moved to Rolling Rock Hunt Meet Course in Pennsylvania in 1932. In 1983 the race was officially relocated to Great Meadows, where it has been held ever since.
In 1984 the International Gold Cup was officially changed to a timber race, keeping in tradition with Virginia’s status as the nation’s leader in timber racing. The National Steeplechase Association awarded the International Gold Cup stake designation in 1989.
There are nine races scheduled for this year’s International Gold Cup. Here is the official schedule:
Noon – The Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle
12:30 p.m. – The Zeke Ferguson Memorial
1:10 p.m. – The VHBPA Open Flat
1:40 p.m – The VHBPA Open Flat
2:10 p.m. – The Orlando Invitation Timber Race
2:50 p.m. – The Maserati International Timber Stakes
3:30 p.m. – The VHBPA Open Flat
4 p.m. – The VHBPA Open Flat
4:30 p.m. – The Old Dominion Turf Championship
– One of the more popular events every year is the Terrier Race Exhibition, where Jack Russell Terrier’s chase a foxtail through an obstacle course. Takes place at 11 a.m.
– Epic Quartet, an all-female barbershop quartet, will sing the National Anthem.
– It’s joked that jockey’s used to put four marbles in their mouths at the beginning of the Gold Cup, spitting one out after every lap to help keep track
– Patrons can go home winners by participating in the annual Tailgating and Hat contests. Find out more info here.
The International Gold Cup takes place Saturday, Oct. 25, gates open 10 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Great Meadows in the Plains
5089 Old Tavern Road
The Plains, 20198