Fast Horses, Old Whiskey and Young Women
by Julie Reardon
Kentucky has the Derby but in Virginia, the first Saturday in May has always been about the Virginia Gold Cup. While there’s no longer even an operational flat track here, Virginia’s love affair with horses runs longer and deeper than Kentucky’s; we’re starting to produce some decent whiskey locally and young girls still hope to find a pony under the Christmas tree, so the cowboy ballad by the legendary Tom T. Hall about older whiskey, younger women and faster horses could have been written about our state. Kentucky’s famous horse race, first run in 1875, may be the country’s best-known equestrian event, George Washington was hunting hounds here in Virginia and colonials were racing horses before Kentucky was even settled. And here in suburban Northern Virginia, the Kentucky Derby is held on Gold Cup day, not the reverse. On May 7th, the Derby will have to share top billing with the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race meet, held at Great Meadow, The Plains, VA.
With crowds of over 40,000 in attendance, the Gold Cup is to Washington D.C. what the Derby is to Kentucky: a premiere social and sporting events. Arrangements and tailgating parties are planned months, even years, in advance; prime tailgating and rail side boxes are often passed down in wills. Good ones are usually sold out long before race day. You can, however, still get general admission tickets up until race day starting at $85 for a car pass that admits 6 by contacting www.VAGOLDCUP.com or calling 540-347-2612.
The country’s top steeplechasers aren’t the only fast horses you can see this month. Lighting fast, responsive and keen, able to turn on a dime and anticipate the action, polo horses, called ponies, are just as fun to watch. Polo season in the hunt country gets underway this month also, with the return of the twilight arena polo at Great Meadow Saturday nights and field polo at several locations also starts mid-May. Beginning May 14th, the Great Meadow arena games—usually two matches each evening—start at 7 pm. Great Meadow, host to the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase races, is a world class international polo field and during the summer more than 20,000 fans–young professionals as well as families—gather with tailgates and picnics to watch the Twilight Polo program. On selected Friday nights starting May 29th, there is also a Twilight Jumpers program, where tailgaters can watch high jumping show horses compete for prize money. Both events run through mid-September, gates open at 6:30 pm, and admission is $40 per carload, $35 for tickets purchased in advance. Some of the events feature music and dancing by moonlight afterwards. For a complete schedule, and ticket information, call the Great Meadow event line at (540) 253-5001, or visit: http://www.greatmeadow.org
What young woman hasn’t begged for her very own pony at some point in her life? Little and big girls alike, whether they grew up with horses or only wish they had, will enjoy seeing the new spring foals and the blue blooded horses of the hunt country at the Memorial Day weekend 57th annual Hunt Country Stable Tour. For most people, this is the best way to visit some of the most magnificent privately-owned farms and estates in the heart of the hunt country around Middleburg and Upperville. Begun as a church fundraiser nearly 60 years ago, selected farms open their doors (well, their barn doors) to the public on Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Featured are breeding, training, and foxhunting stables, and there is even a country fair and parade of foxhounds at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville. You can pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the farms, or buy a ticket package that includes one to be picked up at the church in Upperville. To get a map and a ticket that will get you in all the farms ($30 per person; $25 if purchased before May 21) go west on Rt. 50 through Middleburg to Upperville. Trinity Episcopal Church is on your right. Tickets can also be purchased at the farms themselves. May 28 & 29, Hunt Country Stable Tour, Upperville/Middleburg area, TrinityUpperville.org/hunt-country-stable-tour or call 540/592-3711.
Culpeper is home to Belmont Farm Distillery in the history-rich Cedar Mountain area, and this distillery produces some fine aged whiskeys along with some younger corn liquors made famous by the Discovery TV program Moonshiners, including Tim Smith’s famous Climax Moonshine. Belmont Farm grows all the corn and grains they distill, and master distiller Chuck Miller is proud of the reputation his spirits have gained for being “grain to glass” products. The distillery is open for tours Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 to 4, and you might get to meet Chuck or moonshiner Tim Smith.
Just up the road from Belmont Farm in Sperryville is the Copper Fox Distillery, nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As distilleries go, this one’s not old, but owner Rick Wasmund, who founded it just 11 years ago, strives to make his single malt and rye whiskeys and his gin the best, patiently using slower methods such as malting his own barley and toasting his own applewood for the finest results. Copper Fox is open for tours and tastings from 10 am til 6 pm Monday through Saturday; they ask that larger groups make appointments. The tours are free; tastings are $8 and they have a store on site. Groups larger than eight are asked to make appointments; visit them at CopperFox.biz or call (540)987-8554.
A family favorite on Memorial Day weekend, the Delaplane Strawberry Festival celebrates the sweet fruit at Sky Meadows State Park, Delaplane from 10am – 5pm May 28-29th. Sky Meadows is in the heart of Virginia’s beautiful hunt country, only an hour’s drive from Washington DC. This family-oriented fair features local crafters, children’s games, hayrides, live entertainment, a raffle, an old-fashioned bake sale, antique cars, petting zoo, of course, fresh strawberries, and more. Events include 5K Run/Walk, Strawberry Pie and Jam Contest, and a strawberry eating contest. Proceeds from the festival are used to fund the ministries and outreach programs of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Delaplane. Admission $25/vehicle; more information or to purchase tickets call (540) 592-3556 or visit the http://www.delaplanestrawberryfestival.com