Located just 10 minutes west of Charlottesville, the Foxfield Races have been a staple of local history since 1977. Twice a year, spectators make the trek to the heart of Virginia to experience the beauty of the countryside and the excitement of the steeplechase. Prior to being a horse race course, the property was a local airport and a well known riding school. Even from the beginning, Foxfield land was filled with the equestrian spirit. Today, the turf track consists of 17 furlongs—just over two miles—of hurdles, hills and obstacles. With the spring races alone bringing in around 20,000 attendees, Foxfield continues to be one of Virginia’s most popular equestrian events. Our Guide to the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville will help you know what to expect come race day.
What to Expect at the Foxfield Races
In the world of horse racing, Foxfield is one of the biggest steeplechase parties of the year in Central Virginia. Hosting steeplechase races for over 40 years, the Foxfield races are nationally recognized as one of the premier horse races in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jockeys along with their thoroughbred racehorses come from all across the country to compete in the Charlottesville races that are held in the fall and the spring. Both the jockeys and the horses are intensely focused on the race ahead, so it’s important not to pet or interact with the horses. The culture of the steeplechase is one that a first time attendee may not be familiar with, and we are here to give you all the knowledge of what to expect at the Foxfield races. Gambling at horse races is a Virginia tradition that originated in the 1600s. Betting at the Foxfield races is not as established as other Virginia horse race events, but attendees interested in gambling can expect informal wagers to take place on the side among friends. In horse racing terms, the purse refers to the amount of money awarded to the winning racers in each event. Purses distributed to the winners of the races vary with each race and is a time honored tradition at a Virginia steeplechase. This year, racers can expect an increase in the purse amount as Foxfield is setting its sights on expanding into other counties and states around Virginia. An increased purse attracts better riders, better horses and makes for an exciting horse race experience for the spectators. The jockeys and their horses come from all over the United States to participate in three types of flat racing: over terrain, hurdle races and timber races. Usually, Foxfield holds one flat race, one timber race and four hurdle races. The flat race is 1 ¼ miles, the hurdle races are 2 ⅜ miles and the timber race is 3 miles.
Tailgating and Food Options at the Foxfield Races
In order to properly enjoy Virginia horse racing, we recommend hosting a Virginia wine country tailgate. Tailgating is a longstanding Festive Horse Race Tradition at the Foxfield races, and alongside the steeplechase, you’ll find most attendees pitching up a tent, serving varied spreads of food and drink for friends and family to graze upon throughout the day. From elegant charcuterie boards to artisan pastry trays, the possibilities for creating a local farm-to-table spread are endless. Most tailgating is done on the infield where a small collection of vending stands are also available with food for purchase. In the spring, there are also food trucks available so steeplechase spectators can select their cuisine of choice. If planning to tailgate, we recommend purchasing a parking space on the rail or the infield. Choosing a Foxfield parking space in these areas allows you to take all of your food, beverages and chairs with you to your space where you’ll have a good view of the action.
Parking at Foxfield Races
While the Foxfield Races are a great time for all, they are more than simply a tailgating party and steeplechase. Every year, a portion of the proceeds, garnered from parking ticket sales from both the spring and fall races, are donated to local charities. Foxfield is committed to making a meaningful difference in the local community, and has established long-term partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and UVA Pediatrics as part of their philanthropic mission. With parking options ranging from general admission to reserved parking, you can rest assured knowing that you’ve contributed to a great cause all while enjoying a tailgate parked right next to the track. Foxfield races tickets can be purchased on their website, where you will find five different parking options on the Foxfield map. In the Green section—known as general admission—expect to see established groups and families with children. The Orange section is where you will spot the majority of university students, while the Blue section is a more relaxing spot from which to watch the races. Situated on the outside rail, the blue section also provides easy access for handicapped and mobility-impaired attendees. The pink and purple sections of the races are reserved for sponsors and patrons.
Family Day at the Fall Foxfield Races
Being that the fall races are more quiet and not as widely attended by UVA students, families are encouraged to come out and enjoy the kid-friendly activities reserved for the fall races. Between pony rides, jack russell terrier races and the gates opening up for tailgaters, there’s something for every member of the family to enjoy. The Family Day affair takes place in early October and attracts around 2,000 to 5,000 spectators a year, and is a popular Virginia fall race. With a relaxed atmosphere and emphasis on family participation, the fall Foxfield races make for a wonderful family weekend outing. Look for the Children’s Tent in the green section for plenty of family friendly activities on the day of the races.
Tailgating is a longstanding Festive Horse Race Tradition, and we want to help you curate your own luxury spread. Read up on all of our expert tips so you, too, can Host the Ultimate Tailgate.
Celebrating at the Springtime Foxfield Races
With classes coming to an end at UVA, the spring races are a popular event for the students. Tailgates and parties fill the inside field while spectators with elegant tailgate spreads populate the outer rail. Typically held at the end of April, the spring races tend to have a bigger crowd. Attendees of the spring races largely come from Virginia colleges and universities with many students looking to relax and hang out with their fellow students in a “last hurrah” of the semester. The spring races draw in vivacious crowds of anywhere between 18,000 and 23,000, and are a staple of Charlottesville’s equestrian scene. Colloquially known as “the biggest party of the year,” the spring races are a popular place to drink with friends amongst the sounds of galloping horses. With safety being the number one priority, Foxfield allows overnight parking and will open the gates at 9 am the following day for guests to retrieve their vehicles. Special buses are organized and encouraged to make sure everyone gets home safely and to manage traffic flow efficiently. The Foxfield team encourages guests who have been drinking to safely find a ride home. It’s important to establish a plan for transportation beforehand, such as reserving a trip through rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. Yellow Cab of Charlottesville is also a great option for safe transportation and will allow you to thoroughly enjoy your Foxfield races experience.
What to Wear to the Foxfield Races
Planning the perfect race day outfit is A Steeplechase Tradition, and we’ve compiled some tried-and-true tips on what to wear. People often wonder what to wear to a fall or spring steeplechase, and if there’s one thing we know about the Foxfield Races, it’s that it’s just as much of a social event as it is a sporting event. UVA students and alumni, equestrian lovers and locals pack the field in a sea of natty bow-ties, seasonal sundresses and hats or fascinators. With a favorite cocktail in hand, attendees often mingle at themed tailgate parties held around the rail, playing cornhole and enjoying festive food spreads. The girls unleash their elegant inner Kate Middleton by often wearing Dubarry of Ireland or Lilly Pultizer fashion, and the boys join them in sporting their preppy best, including seersucker, bold pastels and bright patterns, along with amazingly fun statement accessories. Elaborate hats are a Foxfield tradition, and a great way to really bring out your inner fashionista. Monogrammed, feathered or floppy, a statement hat is a staple part of the perfect Foxfield outfit. Though the Foxfield races are devoid of any official hat contests like its other horse race counterparts, that doesn’t stop the ladies from dressing their Foxfield best. Outfits are meticulously planned months ahead to ensure the perfect race day ensemble. Possibly the most important element of what to wear to the Foxfield races, fashionable and durable footwear like Dubarry boots that will withstand the grass and dirt on the field is essential. During the spring, the ladies can often be spotted wearing Hunter boots. The colorful boots are waterproof and durable, making them perfect for Foxfield. For the fall races, brands like Dubarry are popular. The comfort and practicality of their footwear makes them ideal for tailgating at the steeplechase.
This Dress to Impress notion is also seen at other horse-racing events throughout the year, such as the Montpelier Hunt Races and the Virginia Gold Cup. During the fall horse-racing season, expect to see the guys in ties and the girls in pearls. Furthermore, ladies will don their favorite preppy attire in more subdued warm tones, while gentlemen can be spotted wearing sport jackets and khaki shorts with a patterned bow tie to accessorize. For outwear, it’s always important to take the weather into account and consider bringing a light jacket and wearing appropriate shoes.
Tailgate Etiquette: Tips for Being a Great Guest
Want a cheatsheet for how to be the ultimate guest at your next tailgate? Download our Wine & Country Guest Guide to the Steeplechase Races by clicking the image below.
The Foxfield Races continue to be a Charlottesville-area tradition and equestrian event that welcomes attendees back year-after-year. We hope our Guide to the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville has inspired you to start planning your tailgate at this year’s event.
To read more about Virginia wine country lifestyle, see our Equestrian and Sporting Life section. For even more tailgating and entertaining tips, explore our Style & Culture page. For servingware, entertaining supplies, accessories and more, see our Wine & Country Shop, just down the road from Foxfield. ~
NADIRAH MUHAMMAD is a graduate of George Mason University’s Rhetoric & Writing Studies Program and serves as editorial assistant with Ivy Life & Style Media. She is dedicated to exploring the world through writing and adding eloquence to everyday life.
Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.