The first Saturday in November means the Montpelier Hunt Races are running — as they have for the last 86 years. Set in the Piedmont foothills at the home of James and Dolley Madison, race day draws visitors from Washington, Richmond and all over Virginia for traditional hunt-country festivities.
With the first post time 12:30 p.m., seven races are run: two on the flat and five over fences. Most of the races are more than two miles long and offer exhilarating views of equestrian action.
Besides the main draw, other activities entice on race day — and not just for the well-dressed grown-ups in attendance. There will be Jack Russell Terrier Races near the flat track at 10:30 and Stick Horse Races for children ages 2 to 11. The children’s races will take place on the course in front of the race tower, but kids must enter at the Montpelier Tent by 11:15.
The Tailgate Contest is also quite popular, with lots of prizes handed out. Judge and jury is Jerome Thalwitz, owner of the Bavarian Chef, a highly regarded German restaurant in business since 1974 on Route 29 north of Charlottesville. He’s looking for best use of a theme, best presentation, best taste and most fun. The contest is free, but let the office know in advance of race day. Chef Thalwitz will need to know where your spot is located so he can find and judge you, starting about 11 a.m. Bear in mind that no grills or open fires are allowed.
One of the most entertaining non-horse-related events is the Hat Contest, for which the criteria are elegance and best race theme. There is a prize for groups, so put your heads together and cap them. Also on the racecourse in front of the tower, this contest occurs right after the finish of the second race.
The sixth race is the premier race: a steeplechase run over Montpelier’s live brush fences. The seventh and last post time is 4:30.
Vendor’s Row offers unique shopping opportunities, perfect for the holidays. Race-day souvenirs and merchandise are available at the Montpelier Museum Shop tent.
The Montpelier estate, the lifelong home of our fourth president and first first lady — Dolley Madison is credited with defining the role — will be open at reduced rates for visitors who wish to experience the mansion, the other historic structures and archaeological sites, special exhibits and the gardens and forest trails on the grounds.
William DuPont purchased the Montpelier Estate in 1901 and made substantial changes, enlarging the house, renovating the gardens and adding additional outbuildings and stables. His daughter, Marion DuPont Scott, a fine horsewoman, inherited the property and turned it into a top thoroughbred breeding and racing facility. She opened the Montpelier Races to the public in 1929.
The Montpelier Hunt Races will take place Nov. 7 at 11407 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station, Virginia. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Tickets at the gate are $20 and parking is $30. Tickets bought in advance start at $15, with $20 parking. To register for the Tailgate Contest, call 540-672-0014 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and advance tickets, visit montpelierraces.org.