Gold Cup is Virginia’s answer to the Ketucky Derby and its answer to San Diego’s opening day at the Del Mar races. For 85 years, people have been traveling to The Plains, VA to embark upon an almost century-old tradition of tailgating, celebrating and dressing in fashionably preppy horse race attire, making people-watching just as big a sport as the horse races itself.
Each year, invites are sent out for all sorts of tent/tailgating parties to attend – some all-inclusive with travel to and from Gold Cup, and some are invites to just the party itself. (For those unfamiliar with the event, there are no stands to sit in so spaces are sold in three areas to create your own event – North Rail, South Rail and Member’s Hill.) Each year, there seem to be more and more invites coming out, causing most to have to map out their path of appearances.
This year, my boyfriend and I decided to try something different (which usually means we probably should have stuck with the norm). We decided to try an all-inclusive tent, complete with transportation to and from the event. Despite all the feedback from this particular event, we went ahead with our plans.
At 9am, we headed to 19th (a bar on I St.) and joined a few hundred people, dressed in their finest ivy league school graduation attire. Women had quite an array of styles, ranging from garden tea party to L.A. prom. The men were some of the best-dressed I’ve seen yet – some with bow ties, some with leisure suit jackets and some with printed J Crew pants (or combos thereof). Still, my boyfriend and I felt as though we were the chaperones on this trip, as we were two of the oldest people in attendance.
About an hour into being at the bar (and one large mimosa in) we boarded the buses for Gold Cup. Just a short hour and a half later, we were disembarking the bus and heading to the tents on the South Rail (aka what seems like no-man’s land). Upon arrival, the line for the food (in 92 degree weather) was 20 minutes long (bar was longer) and clearly, there was no where to place your plate down and eat. And, given the heat outside, people’s patience would wear thin. And so, we decided to take the hike to Member’s Hill to continue the ritual of tailgate/tent-hopping. (Writer’s Note: Next time, the solution is simple: don’t break from tradition.)
Member’s Hill allows the most affluent of people to congregate together in a concentrated area, designed to provide them the opportunity to tailgate together to throw great ” mini parties” in their assigned spaces. Each year, my dad buys one of these spaces (commonly the same one year-after-year) and my boyfriend and I decided we’d be more comfortable crashing that than wandering around for the next four hours. My dad’s spread included a great big vat of sangria, champagne, lots and lots of water, wine, meats, cheeses, sandwiches, vegetables, fruits, chips, dips and desserts. Other spaces we went to included full bars, gourmet fares and one was even catered by McDonald’s, a honestly brilliant move, as it’s so uncommon it’s “hip”.
Given the 92-degree heat, not much wandering was done, so much as sitting quietly still and drinking bottle of water, after bottle of water. It was because of this that I actually watched the races this year. It was amazing to see such powerful animals jump over fences, as if they were graceful gazelles but have the speed of well, a racehorse (Go Bubble Economy and Scuba Steve!) :-) In addition, sitting still also allowed for some fabulous people-watching (mainly watching the endless parade of race attire).
After four hours of fun in the sun, we started our trek back to the buses, praying they were open so we could relax in air conditioning, not caring what time they actually left. Sadly, we waited for an hour before being able to board, exhausted from the heat. When it was finally time, all warnings were confirmed: the buses turned into a college drunkfest, causing great amusement for my boyfriend and great annoyance for me, as all I wanted to do was sleep. Below are some of the “happenings” that have allowed me to confirm that next year, we are driving:
- “Ms. Verbally Abusive” – She not only screamed at the entire bus, but all but physically abused the bus driver (that one got a personal email to the organizer, from me, as it was happening)
- “Mr. Personality” – Hitting on the shy, quiet, cute girl, by saying he really is a “good guy” and would take her on the best date ever.
- “Ms. I Wear the Pants” – While her boyfriend was sitting next to her, she hit on “Mr. Personality”, told everyone she was trying to get her boyfriend to propose (her boyfriend insisted her dad had said no, he can’t marry her) and telling everyone a few minutes later that they just broke up.
- “Mr. What’s Going On?” – Sat down next to me, outside of the bus, thinking I was there by myself and started hitting on me, by saying he had worked out at L.A. Fitness and was “so sore”. My boyfriend didn’t bother to save me – he looked amused.
- “Ms. I’m a Business Woman” – Went on and on (very loudly) about the bus driver’s hour tardiness to everyone, including the bus driver and then insisted that because she’s a business woman, that she would NEVER do anything like this to anyone else. She also came to the rescue when “Ms. Verbally Abusive” all but ticked off the entire bus.
“Ms. I Have No Control Over Voice Volume” – She sat directly in front of us and talked so loudly the whole time that my snoozing was interrupted in 30-second intervals.
When the bus came to a stop in front of 19th, we happily got off the bus and straight into a cab, eager to nap. We agreed on the ride home that sticking with tradition should be a motto to live by.
Stay tuned for the REAL fun: Capitol File’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner After-party.