Great Meadow Beckons for Steeplechasing, Tailgating

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Virginia Gold Cup.

This year’s International Gold Cup, one of the country’s most anticipated steeplechase events, will take place Saturday, Oct. 28, at Great Meadow in The Plains, a town of not more than 250 residents in Fauquier County, Virginia.

A few hours after the gates and betting stations open at 10 a.m., the town’s population will surge to some 35,000, as spectators arrive by car, limo, van, minibus and motorcoach. (The parking fees per vehicle are $75, $300, $300 again, $450 and $750, respectively.)

Some are true racing aficionados, knowledgeable about horseflesh, jockeys, trainers, owners, the history of the International Gold Cup (which relocated to Great Meadow in 1984) and its storied spring counterpart, the Virginia Gold Cup. They know that the term “steeplechase” comes from races that began at one church steeple and ended at another, with streams, stone walls and other obstacles in between.

But many come mainly for other attractions, namely, the Terrier Race (11 a.m.), the Tailgate Contest (11:55 a.m.), the Hat Contest (2:30 p.m.), the picnicking (ongoing) and the mint-julep sipping (while they last). Tailgate Contest Tip: “The best tailgates have a theme, decorations and special food and drinks recipes.” Hat Contest categories: Best Racing Theme, Funniest/Most Outrageous, Most Glamorous/Elegant, Best Child (under 18) and Best Men’s Showing.

After the post-Terrier Race excitement has subsided, the day’s official opening ceremony at 11:45 a.m. will feature Fauquier High School senior Charlotte Langford singing the national anthem and the Liberty High School Junior ROTC Color Guard.

The main event, the running of the International Gold Cup at 3 p.m., is the fifth of the day’s eight races. The others are: the Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle, the Steeplethon, the Orlando Heart of the District’s Allowance Hurdle, the Zeke Ferguson Memorial, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Maiden Flat (twice) and, at 4:45 p.m., the Old Dominion Turf Championship.

Those who did not renew or request a reserved space or a private tent, or purchase a vehicle pass, can find detailed ticket information at vagoldcup.com. The $75 general-admission car pass admits a vehicle and up to six occupants. As the website notes: “Historically, the North Rail [to the left of Members Hill as you face the course] has a younger, Washingtonian crowd while the South Rail is a favorite of locals.”

Also from the Virginia Gold Cup website:

Q: “What do people wear?”
A: Afternoon dress is suggested for this event. Women guests on Members Hill customarily wear summer/spring dresses and hats. Flat heels are suggested. Men wear lightweight sport coats and ties. Shorts are not appropriate for Members Hill. Attire on the rails is marginally more relaxed — we recommend a sportswear look for women and khakis with collared shirts for men. Jeans are rarely seen at Gold Cup.

Other upcoming steeplechase events include the Virginia Fall Races on Saturday, Oct. 14, at Glenwood Park in Middleburg and the Montpelier Hunt Races on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Montpelier Station, Virginia.

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