In April of 1922, eight sportsmen met in Virginia at the Fauquier Club with the shared goal of creating a legendary steeplechase race. From its inception, the gentlemen’s ambition was to host an event that would entice the best hunters from across America to compete each and every year. Thirty-four days after they met, their first race — which is known today as the Virginia Gold Cup — was held in the Virginia countryside.
The modern day steeplechase is a long-distance horseback riding competition whereby competitors race through a course set up to emulate the challenges of hunting on horseback. Originating in Ireland in the mid-1700s 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.
What to Expect at the 2023 Virginia Gold Cup
The Spring 2023 Virginia Gold Cup welcomes back their tailgating guests and hat and terrier competitions. Competitors will mount their horses, gather up the reins and spur their equine companions across the rolling hills before them in person. Navigating the marked course, the horses jump over multiple obstacles in hot pursuit of the promised trophy and accompanying prestige of winning the Virginia Gold Cup. The four-mile race challenges the horse and riders’ speed, agility and endurance, all while competing against some of the best equestrians in the country.
The map above outlines the setup of the racecourse itself as well as parking, the different ticketed areas and the best places to set up your tailgate.
Where Did the Va Gold Cup First Run?
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 an historic day. At the first race in 1922, the event’s founding fathers pledged $1,000 to purchase a trophy for the owner of the winning horse, and resolved to bequeath the trophy permanently to the first competitor to win the Va Gold Cup three times.
Exceptional Horses Who’ve Won the Va Gold Cup
In 1994, Henry Stern and Jack Fisher decided to take a chance on their five-year old horse named Saluter, by entering him in the Virginia Gold Cup races. Sure enough, Saluter brought home the title as the youngest Virginia Gold Cup winner since 1953. From there, it was quite the journey. Saluter posted wins at many other races, including the Middleburg Hunt Cup, Radnor Hunt Cup, Virginia Hunt Cup, St. James Hunt Cup and the Marlborough Cup in Wiltshire, England in 1997.
That same year, the equestrian world established the World Timber Championship, offering an envious prize to any horse who consecutively won the Virginia Gold Cup and England’s only timber race, the Marlborough Cup. After coming back from an injury, Saluter galloped to victory.
Throughout his career, Saluter broke many records. Between 1994 and 1999, he won the Va Gold Cup six times and the International Gold Cup in 1998 and 1999. Many remember him for his “come-from-behind” runs. In 2008, at the 83rd running of the Virginia Gold Cup, 45,000 spectators gathered at Great Meadow to acknowledge Fisher and Stern’s contributions to the sport. The race also commemorated Saluter’s career and his winning the Virginia Gold Cup Timber Stakes six consecutive years. Following his final win, the Va Gold Cup trophy was retired and a permanent bronze statue of Saluter was placed beside the Great Meadow Race Course.
Where is the Virginia Gold Cup Held?
When a philanthropist and news executive bought Great Meadow, the Va Gold Cup’s current home, 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. “A Gold Cup winner at Great Meadow must be a very talented animal,” 1978 Gold Cup Winner Don Yovanovich said in an interview at the time.
Today, the Va Gold Cup has realized its founders’ ambition of becoming one of the most prestigious and competitive races in America. Viewers come from across the country to watch the fierce competition play out on the demanding course.
This year, 2023, marks the 98th Annual Virginia Gold Cup. Although some aspects of the steeplechase have changed over the years, the spirit of good hearted competition and appreciation for the bond between horse and rider remain. Race day typically features seven different races, in addition to other activities and competitions that we can expect to be back this spring.
Tailgate Etiquette: Tips for Being a Great Guest
Want a cheat sheet for how to be the ultimate guest at your next tailgate? Download our Virginia Wine & Country Guest Guide to the Steeplechase Races by clicking the image below.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Virginia Gold Cup is held at Great Meadow field events center located at 5089 Old Tavern Road, The Plains, Virginia 20198.
The Virginia Gold Cup recommends afternoon dress at Great Meadow. On Members Hill, women typically wear spring or summer dresses, hats and flat heels. Men wear lightweight sport coats and ties. Attire on the rails is usually more relaxed, women wear sportswear and men wear khakis with collared shirts.
The gates at the Virginia Gold Cup Races open at 10am and the opening ceremonies begin at 12:30pm. The first scheduled race is at 1pm and all gates will close at 7pm.
Tickets for the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow can be purchased online at vagoldcup.com for admission into three sections: Members Hill, North Rail or South Rail. Members Hill is centered directly on the finish line and next to the saddling paddock while the rails are located to the side. Unreserved parking, reserved parking and tent spaces are available for purchase in each of the three sections.
We hope you will share your at-home tailgates and race track memories with us on social media @wineandcountrylife, as we are proud to be sponsors. For at-home tailgating essentials, read our comprehensive suite of equestrian tailgate articles such as What to Wear to the Steeplechase, How to Style the Ultimate Steeplechase Tailgate and Delicious Tailgate Dishes. For decor and equestrian style visit our Virginia Wine & Country Shop website.
Virginia Hunt Country is filled with equestrian events sure to make your enjoyment for the region even more special. Some of the annual favorites are the world-class Upperville Colt and Horse Show, The Montpelier Hunt Race and Virginia United Polo League. Visit our Calendar of Events for more exciting equestrian events in Virginia Horse Country.
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.
Virginia Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Virginia Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The Virginia Wine & Country Gold Book is an annual guide to the top award-winning wines, wineries and experiences in Virginia Wine Country. The annual Virginia Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. The brand includes the Virginia Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, Va. It is a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. Virginia Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.