All of the inside scoop on Virginia's biggest day of Steeplechase racing -- the Virginia Gold Cup. Hey, 50,000 of your closest friends can't be wrong! Do you have your tickets yet?

Friday, April 27, 2007


“Damn it, you’re gonna watch a race!” So says the Director of Racing, Don Yovanovich. He may have said more than “damn,” but this is, for the most part, a family blog.

Here’s how this goes. Everybody has said, “I went to the Gold Cup and I never saw a horse.” Har-Har. It’s an old joke. Let it go.

There are wide cross sections of groups at the Gold Cup with various levels of interest. There is the "horsey" set that actually cares what happens. Usually because they know somebody involved with one of the horses or, better yet, they know one of the horses. Then there’s the “non-horsey” set who simply finds the racing action fascinating. Then there is the “interested to be polite” group. They pay attention to the races so as not to offend their host or hostess. After that you have the “modestly interested” set who will watch a race if they happen to be looking in the right direction when the race starts. And, finally, there is the “don’t care” group. Hey, you “don’t care” people, I’m talking to YOU!

Fact is there are six, maybe seven, races with purses in excess of $240,000. The Gold Cup is now run for a record purse of $100,000. That’s real money.

People spend a large part of their lives looking for the “right horse” that can jump 23 big immovable obstacles while running four miles. The horses can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $500,000. Trainers spend years and years honing their skills to condition these horses properly, and the jockeys basically risk life and limb.

So could you just look out there for one race? Just one…C’mon, stop socializing and smell the roses…er, uh…I mean, the horses.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


You know there has to be a story behind this. It couldn’t just be as simple as somebody showed up one day with a picnic basket and a jug of wine and the tailgate was born. Nope. Not so fast.

Actually, according to, tailgating dates back to the very first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, when fans traveled to the game by carriage, grilling sausages and burgers at the "tail end" of the horse. Today tailgating is a part of most athletic events, especially college football. Now the folks at Yale say it all began there in 1904. Their story says there was a train made up of private railcars that brought fans to a Yale game. The train stopped at the station and the fans had to walk the distance to the stadium. When they arrived at the stadium, they were hungry and thirsty. So the idea was born to bring along a picnic hamper of food for the next game. And so Tailgating was born. This story has been verified as absolute truth hundreds of times by…well, you know, Yale.

And so folks showed up to eat before and after the game. Then some genius invented lights. Sweet move for the tailgaters! The towering electric lamps and night football games brought about the practice of hosting all day football parties at fans’ homes where they would congregate and leisurely hop from house-to-house as the evening kickoff approached. Night games were a critical social development since they allowed for men and women to dress up. Women commonly wore their best dresses adorned with team-colored corsages while men frequently donned coats, ties and the now-forgotten, but once-popular derbies and fedoras. Is any of this starting to remind you of the Gold Cup?

These festive pre-game jaunts continued unabated for 40 years or more until daytime college football on television pre-empted the house parties that were previously the norm. The alternative to not house partying was simple to the legions of football fans that had been weaned on pre-game football parties: Take the party to the stadium!

Now when people started steeplechasing out in the middle of a field on a sunny day it only made sense to have a picnic. Since one needed a car to reach said field and since the card of eight races or so made time for lunch and a snack, the tailgate was a natural fit.

We like to think of the Gold Cup as the biggest tailgate in Virginia. Maybe in the U.S., but we’d get some argument from the Gators and Bulldogs who say the Florida-Georgia football game in Jacksonville is the world’s largest. Ok, their fans show up and start the party on Wednesday for a Saturday game. They win.

But the Gold Cup is still a great tailgate and here’s a few ways to go about it.

BASIC TAILGATE: The main beauty of the tailgate is that it comes in all shapes and sizes. The starter model is the basic tailgate. All you need is a car, a bucket of chicken and a cooler. Chairs and a boom box are optional. Food, drink, transportation. Done.

MODERATELY SOPHISTICATED: The moderately sophisticated tailgate is the trickiest. You want it to look really nice, but not too nice so people won’t think you are trying to hard to be cool. Basically some simple decorations will do. A nice table cloth and some pretty flowers are a must. But the critical element is good food. Don’t forget the staples – ham biscuits, deviled eggs, fried chicken and some type of sweets. Try not to be tempted to utilize a theme.

SOPHISTICATED: This is where you pull out all the stops. You literally decorate the tailgate utilizing a theme. You plan the props, the decorations, the flowers and the food to the nth degree. You labor over this for weeks. A labor of love, of course. You have the finest booze, fancy champagne, imported beer, fancy hors d'oeuvres, catered lunch – the works. Then you enter the Tailgate contest and win a great prize! Finally, there’s the:

FREELOADER: Just show up looking good and wearing your best smile. Amble up, linger, and hopefully since we are still in the South per se, some polite host, hostess or guest will offer you something thinking you know the other host, hostess or guest(s). There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of good ‘ole Southern hospitality. You will get a chance to return the favor next year.

Of course, there are about 1,000 variations on these four themes, so come on out and get your tailgate on!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


A horserace changed my life. Let me tell you the story.

I had never been to a horserace in my life when I went to the Virginia Gold Cup in 1970. I went with a group, and I was surprised to see that there were bookies there, taking bets out in the open. While those days are gone, that day no police bothered them, and I thought it was great fun to place a bet. I don't recall the bookies ever having to pay me back, however, but, my interest was piqued. I went to the racetrack that summer and bet on some horses. I cashed my first ticket that day, and that made me think that there had to be a way to make money at this. I started studying every book I could find, and I went to the races every time I was home from law school.

Taking the Daily Racing Form for one month while I should have been studying law, I saw a tiny ad for tickets to the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. On the third Saturday in May, 1973, my best friend and I went to Pimlico and saw the most incredible performance I've ever seen. When Secretariat came past us on the first turn, he was last. Less than a quarter mile later, he was first, and he stayed first the rest of the way. It was dizzyingly impressive, and as he was pulling up, I got down from my chair, turned to my friend and said, "I'd like to have a horse like that someday."

That statement sent my life on to a completely different path from the one I thought I had chosen. After seeing that, practicing law seemed deadly dull, and I gave it up after five years to get into the business of syndicating racehorses. I brought in my family and friends, and many are still in racing over a quarter century later. We endured six years of failures before our stable took off, and then we went everywhere and we beat everybody.

You may think you have your life all planned out. I certainly did. And then something unexpected happens, and your life is never the same again. Many times I've asked myself, "Suppose I had never gone to the Gold Cup. How different would my life be now?"

(George Rowand is the Business Editor of the Fauquier Times Democrat and the author of the book Diary of a Dream: My Journey in Thoroughbred Racing which details George’s career as a racehorse owner. Before trainer Barclay Tagg won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, the best horses he trained belonged to Rowand and his family of syndicate members. Their best was a mare named Miss Josh who won over $500,000.)

Friday, April 20, 2007


By Bob Hilton, Clerk of the Course
Winner 2003, 2005 and 2006
Gold Cup Lawnmower Races

It’s a three man grounds team here at Great Meadow, so for the three weeks prior to the Gold Cup we run at full tilt getting everything ready for the Virginia Gold Cup races. So what does that mean? It means we are mowing grass. And with the weather turning warm this coming weekend, it means we will be mowing and weed-eating until the sun sets each day. Don’t tell us we don’t know how to have a good time!

To get the race course ready, it’s a process. First we mow the new spring grass to about 5 inches to thicken it up. Then, we slowly raise the height up on the race course to 6 or 7 inches to make the perfect cushion for the horses. (We also have our own rain dance here at Great Meadow because it is important that the ground have a certain level of moisture on race day.) So, about two weeks ago, we rolled our irrigation reels out onto the course so they would be ready to irrigate as the weather had been very dry. Sometimes, this process is kind of like getting your car washed on a sunny day, it brings the rain. It worked again this year.

Lots of people ask if we aerate. Fortunately, the girls wearing high heels take care of that for us at the fall and the spring races. Once they figure out that while high heels are fashionable, they aren’t the best answer for steeple chase footwear, we’re going to have even more work on our plate.

There is also the work we do to the jumps, fences and other structures in preparation for race day. We’ve repaired, painted and stained fencelines, jumps and more. The roads are groomed so they are ready to handle the nearly 8,000 cars and buses that will pull through the gates on May 5.

That’s basically the strategic plan for Gold Cup preparations. Lots of work, but you’re worth it. Did I mention that we have to mow? I’m off to draw straws to see who gets to use the John Deere Chopper Snapper today. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


OK, in our first Top Ten post, the #1 reason for attending the Gold Cup was that Sanjaya Malakar won’t be singing the National Anthem. That remains true. However, now that the under-talented but unflappable singer has been voted off Fox’s hit show American Idol, why not kick off the festivities with a song? He’s gotta be better than Rosie!

Malakar was voted off this week, ending an improbable run on the popular reality show. Sanjaya either horrified or captivated millions of viewers depending on your take on such things. Judge Simon Cowell, who’s isn’t known for his charity, was particularly harsh on young Malakar. But Sanjaya, to his credit, was never fazed. In fact, he seemed to enjoy tweaking the star making machine's nose.

Considering his fashion sense, crazy hairdos and irreverent attitude, Sanjaya could probably come up with something really fun for the Gold Cup.

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


All of us at the Virginia Gold Cup offer our thoughts, our prayers and our condolences to everyone touched by the senseless tragedy that occurred Monday at Virginia Tech.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Up front, we all know the Gold Cup can be a big party for many people. Just make sure it isn't too big. If you plan to drink, make sure you have a designated driver. It something we take very seriously, so be smart and work it out before you get here.

Not sure how to go about it? Try this top ten list...

10) See if Lindsay Lohan’s driver is available. Lord knows, he knows how to navigate around trouble.
9) Invite a pregnant woman. Buy her a ticket. Buy her husband and some of their friends tickets. Grovel if necessary.
8) Play rock, paper, driver the night before. Cheat if you must.
7) When was the last time your parents dropped you off and picked you up?
6) Tony Stewart has threatened to retire from NASCAR, maybe you can catch a ride with him.
5) Hitch hike with the guy with the Bud Light and the chainsaw…No, even the guy with the Bud Light and the axe thought that was a bad idea.
4) We don’t ride the bus, you don’t ride the bus, but everybody loves a party bus.
3) Maybe your fifth cousin, the nun, doesn’t have plans on Saturday?
2) Hire somebody -- that ALWAYS works.
1) Volunteer. Step up to the plate, it’s probably your turn.

Friday, April 13, 2007


BEST OF WHAT’S AROUND – The Gold Cup is the best day of fun around. Dave knows that, we know that, now you know that. Score a ticket and get over here. What Would You Say to free tickets. Enter our contest.

PROUDEST MONKEY – You may have the proudest monkey, and we’re down with that Dawg. But, you have to leave the monkey at home. Proud or not. No dogs, cats, birds, snakes, whatever – no pets. It’s not that we don’t love pets ‘cause we do, it’s just too crowded and something might spook a horse and cause an accident. Come early and get your pet fix by watching the Jack Russells race. Be careful, they can get under your feet like Tripping Billies.

ANTS MARCHING – Go ahead be a corporate ant and march right into a party -- if you’re invited. If not, just grab a ticket and c’mon. Join some friends on Members Hill or be part of one of a zillion tailgates. Or just come and do your own thing like Dancing Nancies.

AMERICAN BABY – Ahh…lots of them. Lots. We’re talking lots and lots. In Dave parlance – Dreamgirls and guys.

TOO MUCH – Don’t have too much of anything. Don’t have too much food, too much drink or too much sun. Don’t end up Under The Table And Dreaming.

CRASH INTO ME – Don’t. The parking lot is a field. If it rains, it’s not the best place for a fancy sedan. Of course, it never rains on Angels With Dirty Faces on the first Saturday in May. If you are planning to drink, bring a designated driver.

SATELLITE – There’s a jumbotron so you won’t miss a thing that happening out on the racecourse. So it won’t matter about The Space Between you and the ponies.

TWO STEP – Good luck if you wear the spikey cool expensive heels with your great new dress. The entire lower surface of the Virginia Gold Cup is au natural. That means it grass, and no matter how dry, heels sink. Just keep that in mind when you’re making fashion decisions. There is no Rhyme and Reason for losing your shoe every other step.
DRIVE IN DRIVE OUT – Come early and avoid the traffic. Things run pretty smoothly because we know what we’re doing, but come early and enjoy a great day in the country. Hang out with Heathcliff’s Haiku Warriors. They throw a serious tailgate.

#40 – Actually it’s the 82nd Gold Cup, but who’s counting. Come on out and do the Jimi Thing.

CHAMPIONS – You bet. Not only are the jockeys Smooth Rider(s), but the horses are very impressive as well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Well, the short answer is whatever you want, but here are some tips that might help. Today we will focus on the men. Closer to race day, we will talk about what women should wear, and, of course, will devote a day, if not several days, to hats and hats alone!

For starters, you must wear clothes. No wonder this chap is grinning as it certainly appears that his date/girlfriend/wife/sister/friend is, at the bare minimum (pun intended), topless.

Simply put, you can dress up or not dress up. Plenty of folks who come to picnic dress casually in comfortable clothes. Sun block is a must, and a lid is not a bad idea for winter traumatized skin. Shorts, long pants, long sleeves or short – suit yourself (pun intended).

If you are hanging out with an NFL Hall of Fame guy like Sam Huff you may want to wear a tie…

If you are going to a fancy tailgate or a party in a corporate tent, you may opt for the bow tie. This abbreviated neck wear radically reduces the likelihood of some food or drink spilling on your favorite silk. We don’t care what they say, dry cleaners and silk neckties do not a perfect marriage make.

Of course, you can always opt for a tie with a horsey theme.

You can wear your sash if you want to.

You can wear your mask if you want to, but really, why would you want to?

As you can see from these handsome fellas, you can go coat and
tie, coat and no tie, or no coat and no tie. It’s all good. Just remember your smile, and you will be fine. Just remember to try to look good. Be on your game.

Finally, if you are going to ride in one of the Gold Cup races and go galloping around 30 mph on the back of a 1,200 lbs. horse jumping over hurdles that are four feet tall, you have to wear a helmet just in case you have to make an emergency exit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Will O’Keefe is to jump racing what Al Michaels is to Monday Night Football. Around horses all his life, the job came naturally, and now Will does the “play by play” race calls at all the Virginia steeplechases and a few in Maryland. Somehow or another, he memorizes all the horses names based on their color or their jockey’s silks. Magically, he can spit this out precisely during the heat of battle, rarely confusing one brown horse for another brown horse. (Aren’t almost all of them brown?)

Here’s one of his favorite stories:

“When I am announcing a race, I like for the race to tell a story and I’ll repeat that theme throughout the race. One of my favorite moments was in the 1990 Gold Cup when Jack Fisher was setting the pace on Call Louis (the 1989 Gold Cup winner) and Patrick Worrall was stalking him on Von Csadek (who won the race in 1988). Jack kept looking back to check out the status of his biggest competitor, Von Csadek (and for good reason, two years prior when Von Csadek won the Gold Cup the nearest horse was a football field behind.)”

(While it’s good to know where your competitors are, it isn’t particularly helpful to the horse to be shifting weight and looking over your shoulder all the time. Just imagine doing it on a bicycle…)

“Finally I said over the PA System, ‘Jack, he’s still there!’ Shortly, Von Csadek made his move, passed Call Louis and Jack didn’t have to look back as Von Csadek went on to his second win in the Virginia Gold Cup with Call Louis second.”

Fisher got over it, and cranked up a record shattering performance of six Gold Cup wins on board the now happily retired and quite famous Saluter (who, by the way, is what horse folks call “bay” which is a secret code word for “brown.”)

Monday, April 9, 2007


Can you keep a secret? I’ll let you in on a little something. My usual gig? Foxhunting. Winter. Cold. Running up and down hills over slippery ground chasing a bunch of howling flea bag mutts that are chasin’ some fox. Are you kidding me? To make it worse, they get me up at the crack of dawn, give me a bath…a bath, in the middle of the winter mind you! Drag me off of my farm down the road to some other farm. When it’s over they have something called a hunt breakfast. Bull. Fancy word for cocktail party. Do I get to go? Oh no, trusty steed here gets to hang out in the horse trailer and munch on some hay and wait until the party is over. Nice…real nice.

Now, this Gold Cup gig? Much, much better. Primo, in fact. It doesn’t start until late morning. It’s warm. Almost always a beautiful day. I get to cruise around with a bunch of my famous racehorse cousins who are running in the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup. That’s serious coin.

Oh, and this knucklehead to my left? He gets to cruise around on my back and flirt with the pretty girls at all the rail side parking spaces. Nice shades, huh? This is pretty much how we spend our day. Pretty girls love horses. Little kids get to pet me on the nose, which is way cool. Little girls love horses too. This is a much better gig -- sleep late, hang with the homies, flirt with the chicks, lots of photo ops with the kiddies. An occasional apple or carrot. Quality equine afternoon, thank you very much.

Who’s with me? Seriously, look at this face. Who couldn’t love this face? Who doesn’t want to PAR-TAY with this mug? Who's with me?

Saturday, April 7, 2007


For the record, The Weather Gods didn't promise anything. But we looked it up and found that statistics show the first Saturday in May enjoys great weather year after year. So why not come out to the 82nd Virginia Gold Cup races? People who've been usually describe it as one of three things: The biggest picnic you’ve ever seen, the biggest outdoor cocktail party ever, or the most important horse race in Virginia. Ultimately, it’s a combination of all three. It’s very big, spectacularly fun, and not to be missed. It’s the 82nd running of the Virginia Gold Cup races the first Saturday in May at Great Meadow.

Mind you the Metro doesn’t come all the way out here, and it’s not a cheap cab fare, but you can make it by car in about 1 hour from D.C. It's easy to get here from anywhere in Northern Virginia. OK, make that 'just as easy to get to' as anything else in Northern Virginia. We have the traffic thing figured out, so it's pretty smooth on our end. Better yet, get on one of the party buses headed our way, and you won't have to worry 'bout a thing.

What are you waiting for? You’ll need a ticket, so just go back to and all the info you need is right there. It's time to start planning, only 3 shopping days left 'til the Virginia Gold Cup.

I’ll be hanging out in the Chairman’s Tent – that’s right, I’m the boss. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. See you there! – Dr. Will Allison, Chairman, Virginia Gold Cup Races

Friday, April 6, 2007


Plenty of folks attend the Gold Cup and never see a horse, but you certainly won’t see one at a Nationals’ game. After all, who knows what percentage of the 50,000 people at the Gold Cup will actually see a race or even a single horse for that matter? While that is a point of minor consternation to the jockeys who risk their lives, and to the owners and trainers who sink substantial resources into these steeds, it’s no big deal to the rest of us.

But if you do want to see the horses, the Gold Cup is a much better venue than a Nats’ game. You simply won’t see any equines at RFK unless the mounted police show up, and that’s unlikely as the Nats aren’t good enough to require any Mounted Police crowd control. No Dice K. No more Soriano. You get the point.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the Nats play 162 games a year. There are 81 of these gems at “home.” However there is only ONE Virginia Gold Cup. Try not to miss it. It will be fun, and your team won’t lose. There will be plenty of good looking men and women there, lots of food and friends and the horses are the most talented underpaid athletes you will ever see.

If you see any at all…

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Steeplechase races are offshoots of organized fox hunting. Fauquier and Loudoun Counties in Northern Virginia are home to more recognized fox hunts and organized steeplechase races than anywhere else this side of the Atlantic. Don’t worry. Unlike fox hunters in England, we don’t kill the fox. It’s just a bunch of hounds barking and horses snorting and people “Tally Ho-ing” which in some language surely means, “If I fall off this horse going 30 mph, I’m toast!”

Since it wasn’t dangerous enough to go galloping over hill and dale chasing a speedy, wily varmint, somebody hatched a plan to multiply the thrills by conducting an actual race under similar conditions. Viola! Steeplechase racing was born. Would you be shocked if I told you this happened in Ireland?

Point–to-point racing got started on the Emerald Isle according to most sources (read that: everyone but the English). The first such steeplechase race was run in Cork in 1752 when Mr. Blake challenged his neighbor, Mr. O'Callaghan, to race from Buttevant church to Doneraile church some four and a half miles away. Along the way, horse and rider would jump stone walls, ditches and hedges as these presented themselves. By keeping the steeple of the church in sight (steeplechasing), both riders could see the finish line.

When the race was over, Mr. Blake and Mr. O’Callghan invented the pub.

Nice work, fellas.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


10. Would it kill you to pay the neighbor kid to mow the grass? We know you will do a better job, but we're talking one time.
9. C'mon! You can play golf every other Saturday in May.
8. Even the Kentucky Derby needs a pre-game show.
7. When was the last time you hung out with 49,999 of your closest friends?
6. Where else are you going to wear that cool hat?
5. Your SUV actually makes sense at Great Meadow.
4. Horse racing is the “Sport of Kings.” Isn’t that good enough for you?
3. Brad Pitt and George Clooney will probably (not) be there.
2. The Weather Gods promised perfect weather. Don’t mess with the weather.
…and the Number 1 reason to go to the 2007 Virginia Gold Cup races:
(drum roll, please…)
1. Sanjaya won’t be singing the national anthem!