If you’ve ever been a twenty or thirtysomething in the DC area, chances are you’ve considered heading out to The Plains, VA for Spring Gold Cup — but did you know there’s another race in the fall? The Fall Virginia Gold Cup Races are one of my favorite events of the year and an excellent way to get your fall fun fix…without going to a pumpkin patch or apple picking.
HORSE RACING IN VIRGINIA: VIRGINIA GOLD CUP RACES
The Virginia Gold Cup Races are a steeplechase race held twice a year in The Plains, VA at the Great Meadow racecourse. Typically, the Spring Gold Cup Races are held the same weekend as The Derby and, full disclosure, the spring races are a chance for every millennial from DC to pile into buses and get rowdy for a day of sundresses and bourbon. If you went to UVA, you’re probably familiar with this tradition from your time at the Foxfield Races.
Fall Gold Cup is a different ball game. It’s a low-key event where the focus is on spending an afternoon in the country with friends, sipping a casual cocktail, and admiring the impressive tailgate setups. The ever-present buses from spring are noticeably absent and the drunken stumblers are far and few between. This is Gold Cup for the 30+ set.
Wondering what steeplechase is? It’s a type of horse racing where the horses and jockeys run through a course that includes obstacles and jumps. There isn’t the circular set track that you’ll see in the Triple Crown.
IS FALL GOLD CUP FUN?
If you’ve been to Spring Gold Cup, you’re probably wondering, “So…I realize that maybe I’m beyond my Spring Gold Cup years, but is Fall Gold Cup fun?” And, I’d give you a resounding, yes! I’m not a big day drinker anymore (heck, I’m just not a big drinker anytime anymore), so trying to look cute while pounding bourbon and reapplying sunscreen all day isn’t my idea of fun. Spring Gold Cup had its time and place, but I’m over it at this point.
Fall Gold Cup is laid-back fun. You and your friends split up between a few cars (hey, the advantage to your thirties is there are always pregnant DDs!) and head out to The Plains at a leisurely pace. You’re drinking coffee in the morning rather than seeing how many mimosas you can finish on the bus. You’re autumnally dressed for comfort because you know fall weather can bring with it cooler temperatures and a sprinkle here and there on an overcast day (hint: overcast days are the best for a horse race!).
You spend the day snacking on ham biscuits, pimento cheese, and, if you’re lucky, someone decided to pick up Chick-Fil-A nuggets. You may pour a bloody mary at noon before switching to a nice bourbon as the day wears on. The day is spent hanging out at your own well-appointed tailgate or perhaps checking out a few of the vendors and walking around just to see the sights — not to try to find your friend in a sea of sundresses and minimal cell service. Fall Gold Cup is grown-up fun.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW BEFORE FALL GOLD CUP?
So, now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to make a trip to Fall Gold Cup next October, here are a few of the must-knows before you go:
- Fall Gold Cup is almost always the last Saturday in October. It’s always been pleasantly chilly and overcast when I’ve gone.
- Unlike Spring Gold Cup, where you can always find an all-inclusive tailgate ticket to buy, Fall Gold Cup is a little more do-it-yourself. Someone in your group will need to get a tailgate spot and then you’ll buy as many parking passes in the lot as you need to fit everyone.
- When it comes to the tailgate, you can go as casual or as fancy as you want. We were lucky to have a number of incredibly talented hostesses in our group who brought food, decor, and even antiques to pull together the most gorgeous spread.
- Beyond the parking spot, you’ll need to buy a badge. We’re lucky that my friend Stephanie, otherwise known as Magnolia Stripes, is super organized and put together the badges, tailgate spot, and parking passes. After all was said and done, it ran us $68 each.
- Fall Gold Cup is a more casual affair than Spring Gold Cup. Put away your sundresses and wedges — this is where jeans, boots, and fall hats reign supreme. Of course, you can pull out a dress, but think more of the wool and tweed variety than something dressy — you don’t want to be miserable if you end up trekking through the mud. I’m working on a post all about What to Wear to Fall Gold Cup! Look for that next week.