Nearly a century ago, 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 in May, 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 2021 Virginia Gold Cup
With restrictions still being lifted, the spring 2021 Virginia Gold Cup races won’t welcome the typical hat, tailgating and terrier competitions. But, we’re excited to be able to once again watch competitors mount their horses, gather up their 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—wining 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.
Where Did the 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 Virginia Gold Cup three times.
Has a Horse Ever Won the Gold Cup Three Years in a Row?
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 Virginia 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 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 Virginia 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 Virginia 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, 2021, marks the 96th Annual Virginia Gold Cup. After having to watch the 95th races from home due to COVID-19, crowds are welcomed back, in groups of 10, to watch the spring races in person.
Although some aspects of the steeplechase have changed over the past century, 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 fall.
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.
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, stop by our Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA. And, we look forward to seeing you in person again next year. ~
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.
YOU MIGHT LIKE
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.