The first Saturday in May sees the annual running of the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race. This Saturday upwards of 50,000 people with attend the event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.
This year the day features seven races, both steeplechases and flat races, in addition to the Gold Cup race. Besides the main attraction of the horse races, visitors can enjoy tailgating, witness the terrier race, and participate in a variety of hat contests, or the tailgate contest. The day closes with a live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby on Jumbo-trons.
The Virginia Gold Cup was first run in 1922. The single race event was run on the Oakwood estate near Warrenton. The course covered four miles and included the fences and walls already existing in the countryside.
The organizers contributed $1000 each to purchase a trophy to be given to the owner of the winning horse. The trophy would be retired and become the property of any owner that won the race three times. The wins did not need to be consecutive nor accomplished by the same horse.
In 1924 the race would be moved to Broadview Farm where it would be run through the mid-1980s. Even in the beginning the race was a big draw. Along with the Maryland Hunt Cup, it would become known as one of the two most challenging timber races in the United States.
Eventually development of the land surrounding Broadview necessitated a move for the race. In 1982 Nick Arundel located a 500 acre site near The Plains. To be known as Great Meadow, he purchased it as both a preserved green space and a permanent location for the Gold Cup. At the same time, he founded the Meadows Outdoor Foundation, later renamed Great Meadow Foundation, which organized the support of others that believed it was critical to preserve park land for the community.
Unlike the prior Gold Cup racecourses which utilized the existing countryside, Great Meadow was designed as a racecourse. It provides challenging but ideal conditions for the horses and excellent conditions for spectators.
The horses that succeeded on this new course were of such quality that in 1993 the British Jockey Club automatically qualified the winner of the Virginia Gold Cup for entry in the world famous Aintree Grand National. This is a distinction previously granted only to the annual winner of The Pardubice in Czechoslovakia and the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Although the race has evolved over the years into a more elaborate event, at its core it remains true to the traditions of the past. It celebrates hunt riding, hunt country, and the equine history of Northern Virginia, and carries those traditions into the future.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail