Tally Ho for Gold Cup
Held in Fauquier County since 1922, the Virginia Gold Cup is more than just an annual steeplechase race. It has become one of the year's key social events, a sort of Ascot or Epsom Downs for Washington's 20- and 30-something set. Every year, groups organize pre-race tailgate parties or gather in rented tents that overlook the race course. While equestrian events are ostensibly the reason for the day, you'll probably spend more time checking out the eye candy at your party than watching the horses.
You could always organize your own transportation to Gold Cup, but it's much more fun to join one of the large groups that offer food, drinks and entertainment during the day. Here are a few we'd bet on for a good time:
Over the past few years, University Row has become the primary social area for younger fans of Gold Cup, attracting a solid mix of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, many of whom come with their alumni groups.
This year, groups from 66 different colleges and universities are taking over 11 tents along the North Rail, each "anchored" by alumni from a different school, like Virginia or James Madison. (The Pac-10 conference has its own, too.)
Don't be confused by the labels, though. If you didn't go to Villanova or Boston College, you can still buy tickets for the tent sponsored by those two schools and then spend the day hanging out with Washington and Lee and William and Mary alumni in their tent -- even though there are currently no more bus tickets for William and Mary's tent. You'll wind up meeting a lot of new people during the day anyway.
All tents are interconnected with a large "terrace" area that allows for mingling with all attendees and anyone is welcome to go to University Row, whether or not your school is participating. Food and drinks are available at all tents, and at 2 p.m., University Row is holding its own "Best Dressed" competition.
Buses leave from Rock Bottom Brewery in Ballston at 10, and they leave the Plains just after 5. Rock Bottom is hosting an after-party with guitarists Brad and Smilin' Rob of the local group Practically Einstein.
All-inclusive tickets are $113.86, while tent-only passes are $89.63. Some alumni groups have given their members passwords that allow them to buy cheaper tickets, so you might want to ask your chapter before purchasing. More information and updates on ticket sales are available at universityrow.org.
Local event promoter PartyDC is a Gold Cup veteran that organizes bus trips from Arlington to the Plains every year. The scene at PartyDC tends to be a little younger and crazier than some of the other groups, so consider yourself warned.
Buses leave from Clarendon Grill and the Front Page at 10 a.m., and both bars are opening at 9 to serve a continental breakfast (free) and alcoholic beverages (cash). Tickets include prime spots on the North Rail, lunch and appetizer buffets during the day, and open bars of beer, wine and liquor. Buses leave for Arlington at 5:30, and both bars feature post-race parties with DJs. Bus tickets are $99.99, while tent-only admission is $59.99. (You'll need a parking pass to enter the grounds.)
More information is available on www.partydc.com.
The popular Glover Park restaurant and bar is hosting several tents at Gold Cup again this year and providing two ways to enjoy the day.
Those who don't want to worry about drinking and driving can get a ride on one of six buses making the drive from Glover Park to the Plains. Once there, they get unlimited food and drinks. Lunch is "Tex-Mex, since it's Cinco de Mayo," explains Town Hall owner Paul Holder -- and the bar offers name-brand spirits and beers, including the ever-popular vodka Red Bulls. At the end of the day, buses return to Town Hall, where there's an exclusive after-party for Gold Cup attendees. All-inclusive passes cost $95.
Arranging your own ride down? Admission to the Town Hall tents (and after-party in Glover Park) are $55. Tickets can be purchased at the bar Monday through Wednesday.
UPDATE: Town Hall's buses are now full.
Pros in the City
The cheapest option going is Pros in the City, which is offering all of its tickets for $59. Of course, the bargain-basement price means that attendees miss out on two key draws for other groups: buses and an open bar.
Pros in the City has a stack of parking passes and will be organizing carpools down to the Plains. Guests meet at the Rhodeside Grill in Arlington on Saturday morning -- where a bagel breakfast will be served -- and then they'll divide into groups of four for the trip. Once at Great Meadow, several tents along the North Rail have been reserved, and lunch, snacks, sodas and water are included in the price of the ticket. Alcohol is strictly BYO, though there will be a "bar" with mixers and juice for those who want to whip up their own cocktails.
If you'd rather sit in the tony Members Hill section, Pros in the City has passes available for $45, though that doesn't include parking.
Tickets are available from ProsintheCity.com.
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