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Virginia Gold Cup: the answer to the Kentucky Derby

Saturday - 5/5/2012, 8:08am  ET

John Aaron, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - If your Saturday is wide open, a good time could be only an hour away.

This weekend is the 87th Virginia Gold Cup, which is held every year on the first Saturday in May. It's called Virginia's answer to the Kentucky Derby.

A crowd of 50,000 is expected at Great Meadow in Virginia, which is a 30-mile trip away from the Beltway on I-66.

"You'll see signs," says Scott Stephens, a spokesman for Virginia Gold Cup. "It'll say 'The Plains.' Very easy to get to."

Gates open at 10 a.m., with a Jack Russell Terrier race starting off the day's events. Horse races begin at 1:30 p.m. When they wrap up, the Kentucky Derby will be shown on big screens.

But the day is as much about the social scene as the races.

"People really like this event, because it's kind of like the beginning of summer and it gives them a reason to dress up," Stephens says.

Spectators will try to outdo each other to win contests for best hat and best tailgate.

Actor Robert Duvall will also be on hand to present the trophy to the winner of this year's Virginia Gold Cup race.

Tickets are no longer available online, but should be available at the gate. Stephens says they are used to getting a lot of last-minute attendees, especially if the weather is exceptionally nice.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)