The springs races at Foxfield are nearly upon Charlottesville, and this year the 45-year-old steeplechase has some new offerings for attendees.
This weekend brings a new viewing area with entertainment and food options, the ease of printing out tickets at home in advance and a new game to get those who might not be longtime steeplechase fans in the spirit of the sport.
Gates for the rain-or-shine event at the Garth Road venue will open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and the first race starts at 12:30 p.m.
The new Orange Entertainment Park section, open to all general-admission ticket holders, offers spectators places along the rail to watch the horses and jockeys as they make last-minute moves near the end of their races, said Kelsey Cox, executive director of Foxfield Races.
“It’s actually one of the best viewing areas. It’s a natural amphitheater plateau,” Cox told The Daily Progress. “It’s the last push before they get to the finish line and the jockeys are, well, jockeying for position.”
The newly repurposed space used to be a popular gathering spot for younger attendees, including students from American University and the University of Virginia, who weren’t interested in watching the horses, Cox said. “It wasn’t a safe model, and there wasn’t a community feel,” Cox said of the former arrangement.
The space, which organizers refer to as “New Orange,” offers a large video wall for race viewing, as well as a variety of food and drink vendors, including Bold Rock Cider, Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Liquid Death, the Pie Guy, Popito’s Pizza and Angelic’s.
“We wanted to have this space for new attendees who just wanted to try it,” Cox said.
Steeplechase is the reason for the event, which will raise funds for Camp Holiday Trails, a Charlottesville nonprofit that helps campers ages 7 to 17 with medical needs enjoy camp activities and experiences. Last year’s event raised $53,000 for Camp Holiday Trails, and a check for this year’s take will be presented Saturday morning before the first race, Cox said.
For attendees who are not familiar with the sport, Cox said there’s an entertaining new way to get up to speed before the event.
The Stable Duel app provides a free-to-play Foxfield game that allows players to build a virtual stable of up to 10 horses and learn more about the horses, riders and trainers involved, Cox said. The top prize is $2,000.
“It’s a great way to learn about the steeplechase experience,” Cox said, adding that organizers keep in mind that spectators will have different familiarity levels. “It’s always somebody’s first race, and somebody’s 75th.”
Technology is adding convenience to the process. Ticket holders can print out their own tickets at home and bring them along, and they’ll receive updates on offerings, safety instructions and other news, Cox said. Organizers expect 12,000 to 13,000 people to attend; electronic ticketing, which Foxfield adopted in 2021, makes it easier to get an accurate count, Cox said.
Cox offered some tips for a pleasant race day:
■ Pay attention to local weather forecasts so you can dress comfortably. “Are we putting on sunscreen, or wearing jackets?” Cox said.
■ Stay hydrated, and don’t stand around for hours without eating. Foxfield has teamed up with Pepsi to make free water available.
■ Plan to take your own empties, recyclables and garbage back to the parking lot with you to help protect the site, as conservation is an important part of Foxfield’s mission. A bag will be provided at each parking space in case you forget to bring your own, Cox said.
“We want to be sure people are picking up after themselves,” Cox said. “The more we don’t spend on cleanup, the more we can give to Camp Holiday Trails.”
General-admission tickets start at $65, and fans ages 12 and younger get in for free. Learn more at foxfieldraces.com.