Colorful duds, pari-mutuel betting star at 88th running.
By Sarah Valerio
Photos by Kyle Samperton
While this year marked the 88th running of the Virginia Gold Cup, known for its horse races, terrier race, big hats and bright sunny weather serving to draw the District’s social scene out to Virginia’s horse country, it was the first year attendees could place bets on the races. As a result, the Virginia Gold Cup and its sister race, the International Gold Cup in October, became the only two steeple chase races in Virginia to offer betting.
The name of the game was pari-mutuel betting, in which participants put their money into a collective pool. Bets, placed in cash as betting by credit card is illegal in Virginia, were deposited into one of 11 self-service stations staggered around the course. Wagering options included win (choosing the winning horse), place (your horse finishes first or second and you collect the amount for second, show (your horse finishes first, second, or third and you collect the amount for third), exacta (picking the first and second place horses in order), trifecta (picking the first, second, and third place horses in order), and daily double (selecting the winner of two consecutive races).
Organizers were hopeful the new betting system would encourage people to attend the races rather than watch elsewhere. As off-course betting in casinos and bars has gained in popularity, race crowds in general have been on the decline, though that has not been the case at Gold Cup which continues to expand, this year boasting over 55,000 attendees. Organizers were also hopeful it would draw attention back to the horses and six races which awarded $200,000 in purses. Yet the popular inside joke persists among attendees that they make it the entire day without seeing a single horse as they are so engaged in other activities.
“It’s a heck of a day. I think they even race horses,” joked Bill Dean, president and CEO of M.C. Dean, a Gold Cup sponsor, which hosted a tent on Member’s Hill. Other Gold Cup sponsors included BMW, Infinitive, United Airlines and Hogan Lovells. Dean added that one of the reasons he enjoys Gold Cup is because it “is the only event that gets all of Washington and Maryland out of Washington together for a day.”
“Other activities” for many constitutes hours of heavy day drinking. While the mint julep is the classic race cocktail, Capital Club’s tent on the North Rail featured its storied, gas-powered blender which served up strong frozen margaritas to tent-goers.
“The Capital Club Gold Cup tent is known for patriotic things like Chick-fil-A, Maker’s Mark, Tito’s Vodka from Texas, and ice cold Fireball,” said Capital Club President Fritz Brogan, adding that they are considering expanding the size of the tent next year to accommodate a growing number of attendees.
Town Hall Managing Partner Paul Holder is more of a traditionalist, saying that he enjoys sipping a few mint juleps throughout the afternoon when he isn’t busy with the duties of overseeing Town Hall’s massive tent along the North Rail. The tent, now in its eighth year, has expanded from one plot to four, with an estimated 600 guests passing through throughout the day, according to Holder. Guests sipped Woodford Reserve mint juleps served up in copper julep cups, and dined on homemade fried chicken and BBQ pulled pork sliders catered by Savory Fare.
Holder noted that one of the betting stations was conveniently located right outside the entrance to the Town Hall tent, which he said was well received by guests who took advantage of the chance to lay their money down on the races.
“We always have a great time, and it’s a chance to get out of the city and spend the afternoon with our friends,” added Holder.
Those with Member’s Hill passes could venture into the fenced area between the north and south rails for an exclusive view of the races from higher ground. One popular gathering spot on Member’s Hill was Steward’s Stand #72. Dubbed the “French 75” after the trademark drink by the same name, the plot is sponsored by The Genau Group Realty and development company BrookRose and hosted by Fletcher Gill, Charles Paret, Todd Routzahn and Cliff Huang.
“In the six years I’ve hosted my Member’s Hill Spot, this was by far the best year ever,” said Gill, Genau Group Managing Partner. “The weather was crisp and breezy but the sun was shining and added the perfect touch of warmth. The horses raced well and our crew and guests had a wonderful time. I think we opened about 30 bottles of champagne and mixed four batches of the French 75.”
Washington Life, a longtime magazine sponsor of Gold Cup, joined the French 75 crew and invited VIP friends of the magazine to the party including CNN Senior Director of Public Relations Edie Emery. Emery sported cowboy boots, one of the many popular choices of footwear which ranged from boots to wedges to sandals among female attendees.
But on such a beautiful day in such a scenic location, this reporter heard very few complaints about sore feet or from sore losers whose gamble didn’t turn out to be a winning one at the new betting stations.