An American scene
This weekend marked the 76th running of the annual International Virginia Gold Cup Races – a grand equestrian event held in the heart of Northern VA’s horse country, where the Blue Ridge Mountains roll gracefully into Great Meadow (The Plains, Virginia).
The scene is one from a bygone age, and hence majestic to behold. The prosperous people who wore pastels in the spring for the older and even more consequential Gold Cup Races (held on the same day as the Kentucky Derby, and a worthy rival to that race’s splendor – more decadent and less depraved) have faded to tweed to match the fall foliage. Even high fashion has its forms of camouflage. On this Saturday, the weather, too, co-operated to accommodate the seasonally drab wardrobes of the fetching attendees.
The crowd was for the most part well-to-do, and doing it well. To tame an enormous, wild beast to run a planned course at top speeds and bound over jumps that stand higher than the average man is quite a feat, and an occasion worth celebrating.
And celebrate they do. The steeplechases take place with lengthy breaks in between, probably so the crowds can watch each other when they have recovered from watching and cheering on the horses on whom they placed bets. There are hats on men, women, and children, hands holding cocktails, and a milling milieu that lionizes non-lazy leisure in the most fashionable way.
Yet there is an undeniable impression of hard work in the air of this place. The warm fragrance of cigar smoke and bourbon wafting about reminds one vaguely of office business deals and the all-important after-dinner coming-to-terms. The horses run hard, their jockeys endure a similar effort, and the horses’ trainers experience all the strain of both horse and rider from the sideline.
How did this sporting set get so wealthy? There are mobs of them paying top dollar to park their cars along the infield rail and display their heirloom silver picnic sets. But it’s rude to discuss money, let alone to ask someone how he got so much of it. So I content myself with being rich-by-association with people of taste.
And there is hope in all of this, not just the fact that a beautiful tradition perpetuates well into the modern age, where true class is seldom-scene, but also that these people hold onto values that will keep the art going: I counted about a dozen Ken Cuccinelli for Governor signs during my trip to and from the races- all of them huge and bold and posted in front of the most affluent horse farms.
Teresa Mull is the managing editor of Human Events.