The International Gold Cup, a beloved, almost 100-year, equestrian tradition, takes place annually in late October. Although it started out with much humbler beginnings, today the race draws crowds of over 50,000 people each year. After restricting crowd access in 2020 due to the pandemic, The International Gold Cup Races are ready to welcome spectators back to the steeplechase!

The race began as a friendly competition amongst eight equestrians who met at Fauquier Club in Warrenton and organized a race on horseback stretching over a four-mile course through the wild and untamed hills of Virginia. The gentleman who created the race determined that the winner would receive a $1,000 purse and a coveted trophy that would be passed on each year to the newest winner of the race. One month after that fateful meeting, the Virginia Gold Cup was born. From its steeplechase beginnings to the humble fields of Virginia, the races have captivated viewers for decades. 

Virginia Gold Cup, Image: © Anthony Gibson
Virginia Gold Cup, Image: © Anthony Gibson

The modern-day steeplechase is a long-distance horseback riding competition. Competitors race through a course set up to emulate the challenges of hunting on horseback. Originating as a race from one village’s church steeple to the next (thus the name steeplechase), the event is enormously challenging for horse and rider as they jump stone walls, fences and hedges.

From the history and competition to the people and festivities, Virginia horse racing events provide a rich cultural experience that unites the community. Competitors mount their horses, gather up their reins and spur their equine companions across the rolling hills before them. Navigating the marked course, the horses jump over multiple obstacles in hot pursuit of the promised trophy and accompanying prestige. 

Today, jockeys come from all over the world to compete, and as the size and the competition have grown, so has the prestige of the day’s events. This year, the gates will open at 10:00 in the morning, and the first race will commence at 12:30 in the afternoon.

Virginia Gold Cup, Image: © Anthony Gibson
Virginia Gold Cup, Image: © Anthony Gibson

Wagering at the International Gold Cup Races

For those feeling lucky, betting is an integral part of the International Gold Cup. There are numerous types of wagering opportunities throughout the day. There is the Win Wager, betting on a particular horse to win its race; the Place Wager, betting that the horse will come in first or second; and the Show Wager, wagering that the horse will be in the top three finishers of its race.

There are also two more nuanced types of betting: the Exacta and the Trifecta. To win the Exacta, you select two horses who will take the top two spots in the race in the order that you write them down. You also have the option to “box” your wager, which allows you to win money if the two horses win first and second, regardless of which order you put them in. Under a Trifecta Wager, you select the top three winners, and they must complete the race in the order you ranked them as within the top three spots. The Trifecta can also be “boxed” to allow for a better chance of you winning your wager.

 

Parking at the International Gold Cup Races

Parking is available only within the gates of the facilities, and all other parking is prohibited. For the 2021 races, individual tickets will not be sold and guests cannot buy parking passes individually. Parking and wrist bands to enter the event are only included in rail spot tickets, Oakwood boxes and tent packages. Each parking pass will indicate the location for parking and will include specific directions to guide each car to its proper parking area. There are several parking areas–the South General Parking area, the Sponsor Guest Parking area, and the North General Parking area. Parking at the International Gold Cup can be confusing, so be sure to review your parking pass and the map before arriving!

International Gold Cup Races Map
International Gold Cup Races Map, Image: © Virginia Gold Cup

Where and When is the International Gold Cup Held?

The address for the International Gold Cup Races is 5089 Old Tavern Rd, The Plains, VA 20198. Located just 45 minutes east of the heart of D.C. and one and a half hours north for those traveling from Charlottesville, the International Gold Cup Races take place at the Great Meadow Foundation, in the hills along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The late October races offer visitors the opportunity to take in the spectacular changing fall foliage. Bright orange and yellow leaves provide the perfect backdrop for the event.

 

 

The original landscape for the Gold Cup race was tucked along the hills abutting the Blue Ridge Mountains at an estate at Oakwood. The historic venue, a residence once owned by President Lincoln’s personal physician, Dr. Robert King Stone, was apt for the commencement of what would become a historic day.

The late October races offer visitors the opportunity to take in the spectacular changing fall foliage. Bright orange and yellow leaves provide the perfect backdrop for the event.

When a philanthropist and news executive bought Great Meadow, a new era of racing began. The course challenged horses and riders to new degrees, demanding new levels of athleticism and endurance. The fences at Great Meadow are higher than its original home and demand both speed and fortitude while racing the four-mile course. Learn about other equestrian events held at Great Meadow in our Northern Virginia Polo article. View all of the events in and around Virginia Wine Country in our Wine & Country Life Events Calendar

What to Wear to a Steeplechase

Afternoon dress and Sunday best are on full display at the International Gold Cup Races. Gentleman don sport coats, jackets, and ties. Women often showcase their English countryside chic with equestrian themed scarves and boots in fall colors to match their hats or fascinators. We recommend wearing shoes that are easy to walk in, as the terrain is uneven and grassy. Read our online guide for more information on how to Dress to Impress at this year’s International Gold Cup Races.

Tailgating at the International Gold Cup Races

On Race Day, miniature picnic parties pop up throughout the fields. Car trunks open, folding tables spring out, and linens are placed atop the tables only to become quickly buried beneath homemade delicacies nestled amongst Mint Julep cups and bottles of champagne. The most outstanding tailgaters will bring along fall floral arrangements to augment their already impressive spreads of tea sandwiches, ham biscuits, and pimento cheese. Tailgating equipment and essentials can be found online or in store at the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy. Groups will gather and coordinate custom plastic cups for a day of drinking and toasting to the horses and riders. To learn more about festival fall tailgating at a Virginia steeplechase, read our online article and learn how to Tailgate Like a Winner

In addition to watching the horses compete in the long-distance races over fences, attendees can enjoy an array of activities, friendly competitions, and general merriment. Although the Tailgate Competition remains on pause for the health and safety of the guests attending, those wishing to enter into a competition of their own can rival one another in the popular Race Day Hat Contest. This year contestants will be judged in the following categories: Best Racing Theme Hat, Funniest or Most Outrageous Hat, Most Glamorous or Elegant Hat, Best Child’s Hat (must be under 18 to participate), and Best Men’s Showing. 

If your tailgating party is located on Member’s Hill, head to the Winner’s Circle in front of the Steward Stand at 2:15 in the afternoon to enter into the contest, which will commence at 2:30. If your party is located in the North or South area of the course, head to Member’s Hill at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Please leave your pets at home, as they are not permitted on the premises. Similarly, there is a strict ban on glass bottles of any kind.

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.

Whether you come for the horses, the food, the fashion, or the wagering, the International Gold Cup promises to provide a day that showcases Virginia horse country in all of its glory. 

On our website, find even more information on Things to Love About the Fall Horse Races, the spring Virginia Gold Cup Races, expert tips on Tailgating Like a Winner and Virginia recipe ideas to prepare for the tailgate contest. And for tailgating essentials and supplies, stop by our Wine & Country Shop in Ivy.  ~

ABBY MEREDITH is a Double Hoo who loves all things Charlottesville and equestrian. Abby grew up competing through the Arabian Horse Association where she found success as a four-time Youth National Champion. During college, Abby made the switch to Hunter Jumpers and competed throughout Virginia. Abby worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C. and now is a freelance writer living in Charlottesville, where she spends her weekends hiking with her dog in the Blue Ridge Mountains, frequenting the farmers market and reading any novel she can get her hands on.

ANTHONY GIBSONS‘s driving passion is to create the most stunning images possible, bar none. His vision for his work is to capture a place or moment of stunning beauty… a place where we can experience direct contact with Nature, or a moment that makes us forget about the everyday pressures of our busy lives.

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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.