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How to Have a Winning Tailgate at the Virginia Gold Cup

How to Have a Winning Tailgate at the Virginia Gold Cup

WARRENTON, VA — On Saturday, May 4, at Great Meadow in The Plains, the Virginia Gold Cup races will celebrate its 99th anniversary. Over the years, many traditions have become sacred to racegoers and at the top of that list is the annual tailgate competition. Held throughout the day as notable food and broadcast personalities make their rounds as judges, the tailgate competition offers bragging rights to the top three tailgate spots. When throwing a proper Virginia Gold Cup tailgate, there are three categories to consider: theme, food, and drink.

This year’s tailgate competition is sponsored by Rappahannock Cellars, located in Huntly, Virginia. Rappahannock Cellars is also the official Virginia wine of the Virginia Gold Cup. Tailgate winners will receive some special prizes from the winery with a case of wine (value $480) going to first place, six bottles (value $240) going to the second place winner, and three bottles (value $120) going to the third place winner. “We are delighted to have Rappahannock Cellars as a sponsor this year,” said Thomas Eshelman, executive director of the Virginia Gold Cup Association. “Their award-winning wines will add so much to the ambiance of the event.”

Recognizing the promise in Virginia wines, Rappahannock Cellars was initially started after the Delmare family moved its family winery from California to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Anyone who purchases a tailgate spot is eligible to participate in the tailgate competition. That means there can be many spectacular entries. The most important step in preparing your tailgate is to pick a unique theme. Whether it’s the roaring ‘20s, a birthday, or your alma mater, ensure the theme carries through in your decorations, menu, and even outfits. That initial first impression is very important to the judges and does not need to be expensive, just well curated.

Photos by Marcia Massenberg.

When selecting your menu, after aligning it with your theme, the next important element is ensuring it is homemade. Choose dishes that are delicious, simple to create, and will hold up well sitting outside all day. Items that can be served room temperature are best, but more advanced tailgaters have the proper equipment to serve both chilled and hot dishes. Something else to consider is how a dish is eaten. Bite-sized portions or items served on toothpicks are great options since most of the day is spent standing. Having to use a fork and knife will lose points. Ultimately if the food looks like it was prepared with care and is enjoyable to eat, the judges will be impressed.

While race day classics like a glass of Champagne won’t hurt, taking the time to develop a tasty and theme-appropriate cocktail for the judges to sample is a great way to stand out. Use fresh, seasonal ingredients and include a garnish. A cocktail station with homemade mixers on display is an outstanding way to show creativity. Don’t be too heavy-handed with the alcohol! The Virginia Gold Cup is an all-day affair and race attendees should enjoy responsibly.

Photo by Tara Jelenic.

To enter the tailgate competition, send your name, contact information, and tailgate spot number to by 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 2.

Virginia Gold Cup gates open at 10 a.m. with the tailgate competition getting underway at 11 a.m. and the first race taking place at noon. Early arrival is encouraged. General admission is $50 per person for a wrist band and $100 for parking. Car passes and wrist bands may be purchased online at For more information, contact the Virginia Gold Cup Association at (540) 347-2612 or visit the website.

Advance purchase of tickets is recommended. To get there from Washington, D.C., take I-66 West to Exit 31 (Route 245 South), and follow signs into Great Meadow, only 50 minutes from the capital.

For more detailed ticket information, go to

Posted on: March 20, 2024

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