Are you suffering from cabin fever? Do you crave wide-open spaces, spectacular views, and really fresh air? Are you up for some excitement? 

It’s time to start planning your day(s) at the races. It doesn’t matter whether you’re local or frequent visitor or an occasional tourist. because this “field trip” makes a terrific outing for family, friends and professional members of your bubble, maybe even a special date with that certain someone. It’s great fun to party out of the trunk of your car, cargo space of your SUV, or pickup truck with the requisite hinged gate on the rear end of the bed for which this nifty al fresco tradition is named. 

Tailgate parties demand a picnic. You and your guests are going to work up serious appetites and thirsts from all that fresh air and energy expended to socialize and cheer home the winner of each race. This means abundant food and beverages, including bottled water, perhaps a thermos or two of coffee and hot water, maybe some tea bags. 

Your menu can be simple: fried chicken, deviled eggs, deli platters, cold shrimp, dips, chips, hummus and salsa. Or complex and fancy: smoked salmon, scallops wrapped in crisp bacon, paté, fondue and hot entrées that require chafing dishes, someone to carve, maybe a bartender to refill drink cups. Pull items from simple and fancy—it all adds up to a feast. 

You can do your tailgate picnic on your own although some guests love to contribute food and drink, and some might want to help with the cost of your reserved space. Yet another option is catering. You can treat your friends or everyone chips in to hire a local caterer to cook your favorite party foods. Once you decide how to organize your tailgate party, keep a list, even if catered: who will do what. Often it’s the little things that get left behind, like a corkscrew, but no worries. A nearby tailgate will help you with only a hint of a smile. We’ve all been there… 

Let’s keep it real in terms of the weather: expect extremes when racing in Virginia gets underway in early March and continues through April and May. Give your guests a “heads up” to be prepared. The best advice is to dress in layers with warmth in mind. That means gloves, waterproof coat, hat, boots, umbrellas,  just in case. Don’t be fooled by the lovely morning: you might be in for brisk temps, maybe some rain, chilling wind, maybe snow. Even if the race meet takes place in April or May, it could be cold and wet or unseasonably warm. Have fun and do some shopping, on-line or in-person. Tack stores and country clothiers have all sorts of inner and outer attire to keep you prepared for all contingencies.

Heads Up! Footwear: preaching to the choir here, but some race meets, especially in relatively warmer months, provide dedicated fashionistas a remarkable stage on which to strut their sartorial splendor. Walking across all that turf in stiletto heels will be hard going, especially if the ground is soft, and probably painful. Please consider sensible footwear. 

Out here in the country, horsey or not, boots are elemental. Most rural people end up with several pairs, especially “casual” knee-high waterproof leather boots. You can’t miss them as they are worn proudly outside jeans or dress pants. When your outfit ends in incredibly elegant boots designed specifically to be functional and stylish for rural lifestyles, no one will notice anything else – not your hair, maybe your hat, but not what you’re wearing – not even spinach dip stuck in your teeth. They will have eyes only for your bling boots, which go with absolutely everything.

Bling boots require occasional daring… Why not make it a day at the races?

Thoroughbred racing on the flat and over fences is exciting from start to finish. Plus you get to see glorious equine pulchritude in the pre-race paddock parade where they are walked around the enclosure and last minute discussions take place between trainer and jockey with owners, proud and excited to watch their horse. At the call “Riders, up!”, trainers walk alongside the jockeys who spring up as if defying gravity at the touch of the trainer’s gloved hands and settle soft as a feather on the relatively small leather plate that is their racing saddles, well-secured by elastic overgirths. The horses take another turn or so while their riders make any necessary adjustments to stirrup leathers, checking that their reins are knotted just so, stirrup resting exactly where it should be on the ball of their booted foot. 

It is sheer poetry in motion when the paddock steward releases the horses in a particular race to follow an outrider onto the course. They stream down the homestretch, stretching their brisk canter into a nice hand gallop, their tails floating behind them. It’s a beautiful sight. The jockeys walk up their mounts up to a fence like the ones they’ll be jumping, stop and show it to their mounts. They stand at the timber or hurdle and look beyond it for several seconds, then turn away and continue their warming gallop to the start of the race. They circle the starter person, usually on foot with a flag… until the starter deems the field of horses is lined up as evenly as possible for a fair start and drops the flag as Will O’Keefe thrills the crowd with his enthusiastic “AND THEY’RE OFF!!!!!” 

Point-to-points are hosted by hunts and the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) governs sanctioned races, which are graded according to the amount of purse money. Both run timber, hurdle and flat races over the natural terrain of various racecourses located in spectacularly scenic settings in the heart of Virginia Hunt Country. Lots of photo opportunities, so make sure your batteries can last the day. 

You’ll find schedule and contact information for several spring months of weekend jump racing by clicking the Calendar tab (Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Valley) at Central Entry Office and by scrolling down the National Steeplechase home page to just below the red “Need To Know” sign and NSA Network Livestream button and click the red See Full Schedule. Ask the hosting organization about covid precautions. It’s a simple courtesy to keep masks handy if you socialize outside your usual bubble and better safe than sorry. 

The 2022 steeplechase season in Virginia begins with point-to-point racing sponsored by Rappahannock Hunt on Saturday, March 5, at Larry Levy’s The Hill Farm just outside Culpeper on Sperryville Turnpike. The card offers timber and flat racing on the relatively new course whose debut took place in March 2020, right before shutdown. Half way through 2019, Levy decided to revive his hunt’s races, which had not run since 2008. The longtime rural and horse sports enthusiast put his farm into conservation easement about 10 years ago to protect The Hill for future generations. 

Levy knew exactly where to build his course. The views are beautiful. Reserved parking and general admission have hillsides, like natural grandstands, which allow spectators to see almost every stride of the course, all the timber fences and just about everything in between. Call soon for reserved tailgate spaces and general admission. There will be two food trucks on the grounds. For out-of-towners: just to the west of The Hill and on the same side: Boston’s general store with gas pump and deli counter. 

Celebrate the sporting rites of spring – lots of choices, Saturdays and two Sundays: Rappahannock PTP – March 5; Warrenton PTP – March 19; Piedmont PTP – March 26; Old Dominion PTP – April 9; Blue Ridge PTP – April 17 Sunday, Middleburg Spring (Glenwood Park) – April 23; Loudoun PTP – April 24 Sunday; Foxfield Spring (Charlottesville) – April 30; Middleburg PTP (Glenwood Park) – May 1; Virginia Gold Cup (Great Meadow), May 7. 

Hope to see you at the races!

For calendar, contact information, results, standings and much more: centralentryoffice.com 

Ditto NSA racing: nationalsteeplechase.com

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