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Hold On to Your Hats: The Scene at This Weekend’s Gold Cup

Washington-area socialites and horse lovers turned out in droves Saturday afternoon for the 83rd Gold Cup steeplechase race in The Plains, Virginia.

A couple of best-hat contestants at the 83rd Gold Cup steeplechase race in The Plains, Virginia.

Tailgaters, many with vintage cars, produced tables with crisp white linens and enjoyed shrimp cocktail, tea sandwiches, and Champagne—not exactly the same set that floods the parking lots of FedEx Field. On Member’s Hill, a gated section where race sponsors and other businesses set up tents, crowds enjoyed Southern-style fried chicken, spicy pork loin, and more tasty bites by Grand Cuisine caterers. Each tent also included a bar with wine and beer and a flat-screen TV for watching the races in comfort.

Photographs by Chris Leaman. 

Want to see more photos from Washington events and parties? Click here for's photo slideshow page.

The races got underway at 1:30. We stood by the rails for the first race—but found ourselves watching the spectators more than the horses. Women dressed in tea- and floor-length gowns stole the show. Those with hats—feathered, flowered, lacy, and some downright outlandish—gathered at 2:15 for the hat contest. The most sophisticated one we saw was a wide-brimmed tan and black number topped with a bouffant of black feathers. Two women, who apparently shop at the same store, both wore it and tied for second place in the contest. The winner, sporting a flowing teal skirt, a matching top, and a fully feathered teal hat, squealed with glee when she won first place.

Said a woman standing near us: “At least she’s the most unique.”

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