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Posted at 2:47 PM ET, 04/ 7/2009

Tally Ho for the Virginia Gold Cup

By Fritz Hahn

Since 1922, Virginia Gold Cup has been one of the state's preeminent steeplechase races and one of the D.C. area's key social events. Always held on the first Saturday in May, it stars thoroughbreds hurdling obstacles during seven races. But for the hundreds of 20- and 30-something Washingtonians making their way to Great Meadow in Fauquier County, the main draw is the chance to hang out with friends and enjoy some drinks and the great outdoors.


Michelle Mustico (left) and Jenny Tesh have big smiles and even bigger hats at the 2008 Gold Cup. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

It's also a great opportunity to make new friends in a different kind of setting; this scene's a far cry from another Saturday in a dimly lit nightspot. Men swap their business clothes for seersucker suits and casual jackets and ties. Women sport sundresses, sandals and decorated wide-brimmed hats. They spend the day tailgating in a grassy field, sipping juleps and checking out everyone's else's outfits and the hat competition, and maybe watching a horse race or two.

Anyone can make the trip to the Plains to watch the races; admission to the grounds is $75 per car with up to six passengers. (Tickets are available from vagoldcup.com.) Bring a picnic and a cooler full of food and drinks, or purchase lunch at concession stands. But if you want a more festive day out, consider taking the bus from D.C. with one of the many groups that organize trips to Gold Cup. Most packages include admission to the races, access to private party tents along the course's North Rail -- the younger, more fun area -- and unlimited food and drink. (A note of caution: Many of the larger tents have fences and gates manned by off-duty police, so crashing parties can be difficult.)

University Row
The biggest and busiest party is the sprawling 11-tent University Row area, which is organized by alumni from more than 50 colleges and universities. Each tent hosts groups from multiple schools and offers its own food and drink. However, the tents are all connected by common areas, so even if you buy a ticket for a tent sponsored by the University of Virginia, you can wander down to one hosted by Michigan or the University of California to see friends and get something to eat. This year's schedule includes a pre-party at Rock Bottom Brewery in Ballston beginning at 9:15, with buses leaving by 11. Attendees can participate in the inter-alumni "best hat" and "best dressed" competitions. After the races, there's a party with food and drink specials at Rock Bottom. Ticket prices haven't been announced, but sales should begin this week; University Row tends to sell out quickly. Keep watching universityrow.org for updates.

Becky's Fund
Becky's Fund, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness of domestic violence, is the beneficiary of a Gold Cup trip bookended by exclusive parties at downtown nightspots Lotus Lounge and Midtown. "Investing in Hope" includes a 9 a.m. pre-party with food and drinks at Lotus, a bus trip to Gold Cup, admission to a South Rail tent with food and an open bar sponsored by Grey Goose, Maker's Mark, Corona, Red Bull and Vitamin Water. At 5 p.m., the buses head back to D.C., where ticket-holders get free admission to an after-party at Midtown. All-inclusive tickets cost $100, or $80 for tent-only (no transportation) passes. Purchase them from www.beckysfund.org or call 202-730-1333.

Lindy Promotions
Here's a thriftier option: Lindy Promotions has wrangled bus transportation this year from the Front Page bars in Ballston and Dupont Circle, and it's hosting pre- and post-race parties with drink specials at both locations. The $40 tickets include admission to Gold Cup, but they don't get you into any reserved tents or provide any food and drink. Bring a blanket and make a day of it. Tickets can be purchased from lindypromo.com.

Boomerang Bus
The Boomerang Party Bus, known for its D.C. nightlife tours, is heading down to the Plains, where there will be multiple tents with food and open bars. Pre- and post-race parties at the Bottom Line (with cash bars) are also included in the $80 tickets. At least 60 percent of proceeds will benefit Becky's Fund. Purchase tickets at ridetheboomerang.com.

Town Hall
The Glover Park restaurant and bar sends multiple buses to its North Rail tents every year, and they're so popular that tickets for this year's bus trip are already sold out. (Those tickets were gone in three hours, before the sale was even publicly announced, because Town Hall offers first dibs on seats to purchasers from previous years.) You can still get some tent-only tickets for $70, which includes unlimited food and beverages and an after-party at Town Hall. You just have to find your own way down to the races. (If you need bus transportation, call Town Hall to have your name added to the waitlist; tickets are $110.) All proceeds benefit So Others Might Eat, a charity that works with Washington's poor and homeless.

The Capital Club
Though it's a members-only organization limited to 100 men, the Capital Club opens its Gold Cup party to everyone. Full tickets are $105 for men and $85 for women, and they include food and an open bar in two rail-side tents, roundtrip transportation and an after-party at Gin and Tonic. (Tent-only tickets are $80 for men and $60 for women.) More information is available on capital-club.com.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | April 7, 2009; 2:47 PM ET
Categories:  Events, Misc.  
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