By Jeff Nations
Dr. William Allison realizes that the Virginia Gold Cup is steeped in tradition -- decades upon decades of it.
For 87 years, the prominent steeplechase event has been a mainstay on the social calendar of many of Washington, D.C.'s elite. The dress is semi-formal, the tailgating legendary, the crowds invariably large, the horses and riders always among the best in the nation.
So it may have come as some surprise when Allison, the Virginia Gold Cup President, announced that for the first time ever pari-mutuel wagering will be held at the track located at rolling, picturesque Great Meadow in The Plains.
"Everything is in place," Allison said. "That means all the cables, all the betting stations -- the tents are all set up. In each tent there will be two betting machines. We'll have one teller in each betting station and the teller will be able to help them make their wagers."
The 88th annual Virginia Gold Cup (and the International Gold Cup in October) are now the only two steeplechases in Virginia to offer pari-mutuel betting after winning approval for a license from the Virginia Racing Commission. The Virginia Gold Cup is the first steeplechase in the state to allow wagering since the old Morven Park Races in Leesburg tried it in the early 1990s.
The move to wagering, Allison said, was necessitated by shrinking corporate sponsorship dollars. The popularity of the Virginia Gold Cup, which features thoroughbreds competing over hurdles, timber and on flat ground, has never wavered among spectators.
"Because of the recession, the corporate sponsorships have been declining," Allison said. "We want this to go toward more funds for our purses. We probably will not start making any money until the third year. It's very costly to do this."
Allison said the Virginia Gold Cup will have to apply every year for the license, which is available due to a clause in the state code that allows charity events like the Gold Cup to hold one-day meets offering pari-mutuel betting. Allison said the plan is to continue to offer live betting at both Gold Cup events going forward.
"The Virginia Racing Commission is very happy with us applying for this," Allison said. "A number of their staff will be here, and they want this to succeed."
Originally, the proposed wagering would have allowed bettors to use their smart phones to gamble. The technological challenges that system presented forced the Virginia Gold Cup to postpone that option until the fall International Gold Cup at the earliest. Instead, the betting options will have that "traditional" feel after all, as bettors will utilize the standard betting machines and teller windows found at pari-mutuel tracks across the nation.
With approximately 50,000 spectators expected to attend today's Gold Cup, Allison is hoping the on-track wagering will catch on.
"We've been very fortunate to have great support and a great crowd," Allison said. "But that takes care of all the operating expenses. It's not enough to fund our purses, and we want to support our horsemen. This is a big step for us."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>
88th Virginia Gold Cup
Great Meadow, The Plains
Terrier race exhibition
Junior Field Master Chase
The Infinitive Steeplethon
The BMW Chase
The M.C. Dean Chase
the Hogan Lovells Cup
The Virginia Gold Cup Timber Stakes
The United Airlines Maiden Claiming Hurdle
The Kentucky Derby Post Time (live over PA, closed circuit TV and Jumbotrons)
Pari-mutuel betting stations close