Va. Gold Cup to run with no spectators, tailgating, fancy hats

The Virginia Gold Cup — the annual rite of spring blending steeplechase racing, tailgating, sun dresses and shoulder-to-shoulder socializing — will likely be run with no spectators in June, at Great Meadow in The Plains.

Details are still to be confirmed, but a letter has been sent to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring outlining how the National Steeplechase Association would stage the event, given current coronavirus social distancing requirements.

The day of steeplechase racing would be livestreamed, with no spectators on the sprawling course, and strict precautions and monitoring in place for competitors and support staff.

“Attendees will be limited to Race Officials, trainers, grooms, jockeys, staff, and owners,” according to the letter from Alfred Griffin, president of the steeplechase association and co-chair of the Virginia Gold Cup Association.

Everyone on-site would need to maintain at least six feet of social distancing from other participants, according to the letter, which was shared with WTOP.

“Every attendee will be required to have their temperature checked and answer questions concerning current health status before entering the racecourse grounds,” Griffin wrote. “All attendees will be required to wear face masks at all times while on the racecourse grounds with the exception of jockeys from departing the paddock to completion of the race.”

At a typical horse event, winning owners pose for photos with their horses and jockeys immediately after a race. This year, owners will be restricted to the area near the parking space for their horse trailer.

The letter to Ring also includes discussion of the Middleburg Spring Races.

“The goal of these two race meets is to provide hope and reason to trainers and owners to not lay off those who livelihoods depend on Steeplechasing,” Griffin wrote. “The total purse for these two race meets has dropped to $370,000 in order to absorb the costs of providing racing without the income generated by the spectators, who will be excluded from attending.”

Earlier, the May 2 event was rescheduled to June 20, but the letter to Ring suggests a June 27 date. The Middleburg Spring Races would be run June 13.

While a typical Gold Cup afternoon involves tens of thousands of people tailgating with elaborate samplings of food and drink served out of the hatches of SUVs, as well as sponsored tents on Members Hill, amid a good-natured fashion show, including fancy hats, this year’s races would be livestreamed.

And this year’s event would not include pari-mutuel betting.

“Even without spectators, there is a very real value from a psychological outlook,” said Griffin, “while providing a sense of continuity and reward for those employers and owners who have continued to keep all of their employees on the payroll and off of unemployment.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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