Written by Kristin Noggle | Photographed by Karen Monroe & Doug Gehlsen of Middleburg Photo
If you like early spring weather, casual tailgating, serious horsepower, and beautiful mountain views, you’ll love Point-to-Point races! Enjoy the best outdoor spectator sport in the Mid-Atlantic every weekend this spring.
For those new to racing, let’s discuss what it is, why you should attend, and how to make the most of your first experience, especially if you have never thought of owning tweed or Wellies.
What Is It?
Point to Points, abbreviated as P2Ps, are family and single-friendly sporting events with roots in the 18th century Irish countryside. Back then, a few farmers would race each other on their best horses from point A, a church, to point B, another church steeple in the distance. They would jump hedges, walls, ditches and whatever else was in the way. Spectators might include their friends from the pub and a few sheep. The modern version is an afternoon of racing around a loop in an old cattle field, making it easier to sit or stand in one place and see most of the action.
For the last 100 years in the United States, P2Ps’ rustic settings have been in Virginia’s rural Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke or Rappahannock Counties. Every weekend starting March 14, the first race of the day starts at 12:30 p.m. This is called the post time. The six to eight races on the card, or schedule, run every 30 minutes. Racegoers can buy tailgate spots in advance, park in rows along the rail, and lay out food and drink, or show up to graze, bringing a bottle or plate of something to contribute.
The Race Itself
Each race consists of 4 to 12 gorgeous Thoroughbreds, 1200 pounds of rippling muscle, flying past at 30 mph, finessed into steering by wiry men and women with American Ninja Warrior level fitness skills. They eagerly attack the rolling courses, galloping and leaping over split-rail fences, stone walls and plastic shrubbery, up hills and down. Battling the sometimes-blustery conditions, they rip around a loop for 3 miles, with an announcer narrating the action from a tower in the middle. Near the finish line, you can see the grit and determination on the jockeys’ faces. The announcer starts speaking quickly and the excitement in his voice grows. The crowd starts whooping as their favorite drives to the finish.
How to Attend
If you are single, the best way to attend a P2P for the first time is to gather some friends, reserve a tailgate spot and pack a few beers, chairs, and appetizers. You can get to know the people at the spots next to you and have a base for refills if you cruise around or go to the paddock in between races. The paddock is where the horses circle and jockeys get on before each race.
If you don’t want to arrive by noon to park without running over the crowds in between tailgates, eat lunch at home or stop on the way, and bring beverages and plastic cups. Glass is discouraged where a horse might end up stepping on it. You can walk around with a beverage, but general parking may not be convenient to the spectator area. Sometimes there are food trucks, but not always.
The same holds for families: if you don’t have a tailgate to go to, bring snacks and drinks. General parking is $30-$40 per car, paid by cash as you drive in. There is no pavement, but there may be mud, bumps and rocks. Bring the appropriate vehicle or convince a friend who owns one to provide the transportation. If you plan to follow the action at all, buy a five-dollar program.
What to Wear
From boots to gloves to sunscreen, plan on layering up. It’s Virginia, which means the weather could change every 30 minutes. Remember, it will be 5 degrees colder here than in D.C. If it warms up, you can always take layers off. Being cold out in the open is no fun.
Friends hangout together at tailgates. Serious fans consult their programs and jump up and down at the finish of their favorite horse or jockey. People of all ages, in a sea of tweed, jeans and ball caps, munch on bruschetta, brownies, fried chicken and charcuterie. There are strollers, octogenarians looking ready to hop on and ride a race, teenagers sporting striped boots and the latest puffer jackets, and groups of urban ex-pats and horse country natives. You’ll see well-behaved dogs and the occasional goat on leashes.
Attending a P2P feels like sitting in an Irish pub during a soccer match, surrounded by hundreds of people aged 9 weeks to 95 years old. But instead of a screen, there is grass under your feet, beautiful countryside to admire, and delicious food and drinks. You will feel like a veteran by the time April 18 rolls around, the first local not-so-casual race meet in Middleburg. The people are nice, and the people-watching can be fun. Oh, and there are horses. ML
Visit centralentryoffice.com for the full schedule and contact info.