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Sports · May 4, 2017

Rain or shine, county’s biggest event ready to go

It’s ever-changing. We’re constantly altering our race course to improve it for safety — improve it for acceptability by the riders, trainers and owners who are concerned about the safety of their horses.
— Virginia Gold Cup President and Co-chairman Will Allison
By The Numbers
What the Virginia Gold Cup Association will pay the Great Meadow Foundation to rent Great Meadow for Saturday’s steeplechase races.

Pounds of ice that will be used during Saturday’s races, according to Marriott Ranch, the event’s official caterer.

Shrimp that will be served during the races, according to Marriott Ranch.

Law enforcement officers to help manage traffic and the crowd.

Miles of pipes and tile under the Great Meadow course to drain rainwater to a large, onsite pond.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He takes the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase races in stride.

When Virgil “Buster” Presgraves six years moved to a red brick rambler along Old Tavern Road across from the Great Meadow steeplechase course near The Plains, he knew what to expect.

“When we moved here, I told my wife there are three days a year — two Gold Cups (spring and fall) and the Fourth of July — when you’re either going to stay home or you’re going away for the day so you don’t have to fight the traffic,” said Mr. Presgraves, 40, who owns a landscaping business.

He plans to stay put Saturday, although his teenage daughter may spend a few hours at the 92nd running of the Virginia Gold Cup. The organizers give free tickets to Great Meadow neighbors.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” Mr. Presgraves said of race traffic. “I don’t let stuff like that bother me. Do I think this road is designed to do the things they do with it? No. But, it is what it is.”

If the weather cooperates, as many as 65,000 people could attend Saturday’s races, according to the Virginia Gold Cup Association in Warrenton.

But, the forecast calls for rain late Thursday, thunderstorms Friday and afternoon showers Saturday, with some clouds and a high temperature of 63 degrees.

That could dissuade some from attending the races.

> Poll: Will you attend Saturday’s Gold Cup Races?

A four-person maintenance crew keeps the course in tip-top shape year round, Great Meadow President Rob Banner said.

To minimize the effects of rain on the course, a 17-mile drainage network, about 8 inches below the turf, channels water to a large pond at the center of Great Meadow, Mr. Banner explained.

“Weather is weather,” he said of the forecast. “Races are run, rain or shine. Some horses like (wet conditions), some don’t.”

Mr. Banner Thursday morning described the course conditions as “ideal, perfect.”

The crew has mowed the turf to a height of 6 to 8 inches, he said.

“It provides the right cushion for a 1,100-pound horse going 25 to 35 miles per hour, landing off of a 3-foot, 9-inch post rail timber jump,” Mr. Banner explained. “As a horseman, it’s important that the course be as smooth and soft as possible.”

Owners have entered 83 horses to run in the card’s eight steeplechase and flat races, Gold Cup Association Executive Director Diane Jones said.

The association started setting up at Great Meadow for Fauquier’s largest spectator event about two weeks ago.

A major undertaking, Saturday’s races feature 600 trashcans, 200 portable restrooms and 114 hay bales.

About 80 race officials and 30 volunteers will oversee a range of race-related activities. Approximately 140 law enforcement officials will help manage traffic and the crowd.

Marriot Ranch near Hume — the race’s official caterer — will serve about 32,000 shrimp and 4,200 pounds of beef tenderloin in corporate tents, according to the association.

About 300 flower arrangements will be set up on 760 tablecloths under more than four acres of tents.

The 2016 Virginia Gold Cup cost $1.2 million to run and cleared $473,000, according to the association.

Last year’s International Gold Cup cost $962,000 to mount, but lost $193,000, reported the association. That race takes place on the fourth Saturday of October.

“The spring race has to make money,” Mrs. Jones said. “Fall is sort of like the stepchild.”

Managing race day traffic remains one the biggest challenges, said association President and race Co-Chairman William H. Allison, who has attended 67 Virginia Gold Cup races.

The association has done an effective job of moving thousands of vehicles on race day, said Dr. Allison, 85.

That task almost became a lot more complicated.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s planned weekend repairs to a bridge on southbound Interstate 95 in Prince William County on Saturday could have spelled significant congestion on Old Tavern and other area roads, Dr. Allison said.

With traffic restricted to two lanes, one of VDOT’s recommended alternative routes will send traffic out Interstate 66, then down Routes 15/29 and 17 through Fauquier County.

But, because the foul-weather forecast, VDOT has decided to suspend work on the project this weekend.

“That was a last-minute shocker,” Dr. Allison said of VDOT’s weekend construction schedule.

He and other race officials “spent hours on the phone” with state officials, trying to convince them that bridge repair work should not take place during the races.

“You can imagine if you ran all those north/south trucks that come down 95, put them up (Interstate) 66 and (Route) 17 at the same time we’re having our races,” Dr. Allison said. “You could be backed up to Baltimore.”

As an 11-year-old Boy Scout, he handed out race programs at his first Gold Cup, Dr. Allison recalled.

He has attended the spring races 55 consecutive years. Still, nothing about the event bores him.

“There’s nothing predictable,” Dr. Allison said. “It’s ever-changing. We’re constantly altering our race course to improve it for safety — improve it for acceptability by the riders, trainers and owners who are concerned about the safety of their horses.”

The social aspects of race day also make for a pleasant time, he said.

“You get to see old friends.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam plan to make an appearance at the races around 3 p.m. Saturday on their way to Richmond from the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, according to the Gold Cup co-chairman.

Karen Andres, manager of The Corner Store along Old Tavern Road, just across from the race course, also looks forward to race day.

“A little chaotic, but it’s a good chaotic,” Ms. Andres said. “From the time the employees get here, it’s go, go, go, hustle and bustle.”

The store opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. Saturdays.

“We easily triple our (Saturday) revenue for Gold Cup,” said Ms. Andres, who declined to put a dollar amount on the day’s take. “It’s definitely a good day for our business.”
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