There’s an old saying that locals in the town of Gordonsville customarily abide by, the saying goes: “In Orange county, you might miss Christmas, but you won’t miss the races.” This sentiment leads the historic Montpelier Hunt Races to serve as a homecoming, an opportunity for native Orange county residents to return to their hometown year after year. Whether or not you’re a horse racing aficionado or just stepping foot on the track as a first time attendee, The Montpelier Hunt Races welcome everyone. For more than 80 years, Montpelier, the former home of James Madison, has housed premier steeplechase racing that showcases some of the most prized national and international horses. The President’s home became the site of the most prestigious steeplechase in North America because the last private owner of the estate, Marion duPont Scott, founded the Montpelier Steeplechase Hunt Races with her brother in 1934. Marion duPont Scott was an accomplished horsewoman who competed, bred, and trained Thoroughbred horses on the property. Thoroughbreds are known for their speed and agility, making them the perfect horses for steeplechase racing. duPont Scott bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it is now a National Historic Landmark, although the races live on.
Today, the Montpelier Hunt Races continue as an extremely popular event for the National Steeplechase Association with a full day of exciting races, opulent vendors, and lavish tailgating.
What to do at the Montpelier Hunt Races
The Montpelier Hunt Races not only showcase superior horse breeding but also highlight the grand race culture. From tailgating and stick races to the Jack Russell Terrier Races and the hat contest, there is plenty to experience throughout the day. This year, the Montpelier Hunt Races will have vintage cars on display for attendees to view. The cars originate from the 1930s, an ode to the history of the Montpelier steeplechase. Owners alongside their vintage cars will be present to answer questions from race day spectators. There will also be a side saddle exhibition, an elegant equestrian tradition co-sponsored by the National Sporting Library and Museum. Ladies riding side saddle will come up to the rail and often guests will go up and pet the mares. Because these horses are meant for gentle riding and handled by ladies, they are often more calm and quiet. Race horses, on the other hand, are intently focused on the race ahead. Enjoy viewing the day’s extravagant tailgate spreads, or perhaps design your own with the help of our tailgating experts! Learn how to Tailgate Like A Winner in our online article and participate in Montpelier’s “Bond from Across the Pond” tailgate theme this year. Wine & Country Life is excited to be judging this year’s tailgate contest alongside Executive Chef Billy Corbett from The Inn and Tavern at Meander! The popular hat contest will be sponsored by Dubarry of Ireland, with prizes awarded for elegance and best race theme and best group entry.
What to Expect at the Montpelier Hunt Races
The Montpelier Hunt Races are located at 11407 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station, Virginia 22957, approximately half an hour northeast of Charlottesville near Somerset, Virginia. The gates open promptly at 9:00 on the morning of Saturday, November 6, 2021. The first event is a crowd favorite, the Terrier Races where dogs compete over hurdles for the award of most prestigious pup. Children join in the festivities at 11:15 in the morning with the Stick Horse Races, galloping along on their wooden stick horses, each child vying for a blue ribbon or just enjoying being a part of the festivities. Parents of children aged 2 to 11 wishing to participate should pre-enter their kiddos prior to the 11:15 start time.
The main event, the horse races begin shortly after the commencement of the interactive terrier and stick horse races. The first horse race commences at 12:30 with the last race finishing around 4:30 in the afternoon. The total purse for winners throughout the race day is $145,000, with prizes ranging from $5,000 for the top three finishers during the first race of the day’s festivities and culminating in a purse of $40,000 for the winner of the Hurdle Handicap Stakes, the seventh and final competition of the day. Below the Race Tower in the Winner’s Circle, you can watch the presentation of the winning horse, jockey and trainer following the races. For more information about each jockey, who they represent and each horse’s statistics, be sure to pick up one of Montpelier’s Race Programs at the event. Onlookers can join in by betting on their favorite horses and riders as well. While there are no pari-mutuel wagering at the races, people get together and have pools to make wagers on each race. There is often even a bookie at the events.
Tailgating at the Montpelier Hunt Races
The theme for this year’s races is British Connections. Inspired by ties to steeplechasing in England, Montpelier has adopted the theme of “Bond from Across the Pond” to inspire this year’s tailgates. Let your creativity run wild with British themed tea sandwiches, Union Jack inspired décor, or an outfit befitting royalty. The theme can inspire your tailgate, your attire, or perhaps even a craft cocktail to share with your tailgating party! Each tailgate’s spread provides for a spectacle almost as impressive as the horses racing along the track. Montpelier tailgate spreads range from very simple sandwiches and decor to elaborate crystal candelabras and flower arrangements. The upscale picnic provisions brought in boast mouthwatering delicacies. Charcuterie boards with cheeses and cured meats from local favorites accompanied by jams and garnished with sprigs of seasonal herbs are placed atop colorful linens. Nestled within steaming pots, tailgate hosts ladle out hot chili to warm their guests’ bellies and their souls. Bottles of champagne rest in pewter coolers alongside tea sets. To participate in the Tailgate Contest, let the office know you would like to take part by calling the office at 540-672-0014 or email [email protected]
For those who do not wish to bring their own food, a wide array of food vendors is available throughout the infield.
In addition to local fare, attendees should also bring fold out chairs for a full day at the races. Montpelier recommends bringing paper or plastic in lieu of glass containers for food and beverages.
Be sure to leave your pets and your grills at home, as they are not permitted.
Parking at the Montpelier Hunt Races
When arriving at the Montpelier Hunt Races, each car will need a parking pass. Attendees may purchase a General Admission Parking Pass, allowing them to park in the general lot and walk to the infield racecourse; an Infield Parking Pass, which provides access to the infield of the racecourse; or a Reserved Parking Pass, where patrons can park directly on the racecourse or other desirable locations.
What to Wear to the Montpelier Hunt Races
Don your best! In addition to the fabulous Kentucky-Derby stylized hats and fascinators vying for the prize of Best Hat, patrons imbue English countryside chic during the oftentimes chilly November races. Men’s horse race fashion often sees gents sporting suspenders, bowties, and tweed jackets or Dubarry jackets and classic tall brown English country work boots. Ladies’ pair their Cornish hen feathered hats with horse bedecked toile shift dresses under their coats, patterned silk scarves, or quilted coats and leather gloves. The possibility for creativity and fashion knows no bounds at the races. Just be sure to wear comfortable and durable shoes for walking in the steeplechase grass. Montpelier Hunt Races executives strongly suggest not to wear spiked heels or similar fancy footwear on race day. Need help deciding what to wear to a Virginia steeplechase? Read our online article A Steeplechase Tradition to find suggested horse race outfits from seasoned steeplechase attendees. To find elegant equestrian accessories, steeplechase staples, fashionable footwear and more, browse the Wine & Country Shop online.
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.
From the culture to the sport itself, A Day at the Races will surely make for a grand time. Wine & Country Life is proud to be a sponsor, and we cannot wait to tailgate, shop, mingle and cheer on our favorite horses at The Montpelier Hunt Races.
On our website, find even more information on what to do in nearby Gordonsville, 5 Things to Love About the Fall Horse Races, past year’s Montpelier Hunt Races, Tips on Tailgating Like a Winner and Virginia recipe ideas. 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.
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.