Festival celebrates horses, heritage

Fiona McCarthy, Staff Reporter

Tens of thousands of people will converge on Great Meadows, just outside of Warrenton, on May 4 for the Virginia Gold Cup Races, one of the biggest social and equestrian events of the year – and one popularly attended by FHS students.
“This is my first year going to Gold Cup,” senior Ryan Ranslem said. “I like dressing classy and I’m into horse racing. It’s also a good opportunity to hang out with friends… classily.”
This year’s Gold Cup will be the event’s 88th anniversary. Gold Cup began in 1922 as a single steeplechase race at an estate in Fauquier County. Now, the event consists of two steeplechase races, four hurdle and timber horses races, and a Jack Russell terrier race.
“It’s a really important race for local riders,” senior Samantha Bunn, an avid horse rider, said. “It has a lot of the big names in horses, and people look [at Gold Cup] to see which ones are doing well that season.”
The races are a big deal in the horse community because the event is nationally-renowned as a prestigious racing competition; both horses and jockeys must compete to be included in the lineup.
“It’s not just anyone who’s in it,” Bunn said. “There’s definitely more experienced riders who have been training all their lives for these kind of races. They have to qualify beforehand.”
Many of the 50,000 patrons that attend Gold Cup bet on the races, and some shell out upwards of $15,000 for a prime seat on the railside, but most spectators attend the event with a $90 car pass, available at vagoldcup.com. Despite these sky-high prices, however, Gold Cup remains a popular event among students.
“I didn’t know about it [before this year]” Ranslem said. “I found out about it via social media. [I’m excited to go] because it’s an opportunity to act like an adult.”
If acting like an adult includes a formal dress code, then Gold Cup has it down. The event tells ticket-holders that “afternoon dress” is expected from patrons, with women typically wearing sundresses and hats (there is even a hat contest), and men wearing button-downs, khaki shorts, and bowties.
“Dressing classy is the best part,” Ranslem said. “I’m going to wear a bowtie and shorts and nothing else.”
Gold Cup is also one of the most controversial events of the year, at least for the under-21 crowd. Senior Aubrey Munoz, who has attended Gold Cup throughout high school, estimates that most of the 50,000 spectators that attend the event are drunk by the end of the day – including many underage students.
“Most people that go are a bit older, like middle-aged or in their 30s, but about 10 percent of the people there are high school and college kids,” Munoz said. “About 90 percent of those are drunk, and the only ones who aren’t are designated drivers.”
This poses a dangerous threat to drivers on the road when the gates close at 7 p.m., and the drunken crowds are forced to leave.
“Police officers don’t really account for all the drinking unless a person is belligerently drunk,” Munoz said. “So a lot of people will still be drunk and driving. The cops tend to ignore older people because I guess they think they’re more experienced, and they’re a lot more suspicious of kids.”
Munoz believes that this problem could easily be solved by organizing public transportation, instead of trying to convince people, both underage and legal, not to drink.
“I think there should be buses to come in and out to prevent drunk driving – for everyone,” Munoz said. “As long as people are safe, then [drinking] should be fine.”