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Virginia Horse Race: A Grand Spring Tradition

It is a rite of spring for Washington area horse lovers -- The Virginia Gold Cup. The 84th race took place last weekend in Plains, Virginia.

The event is more than watching the races

The Virginia Gold Cup is one of the oldest steeplechase races in the United States, an annual event since 1922. Some 50,000 spectators turn out each year for a series of six races over a challenging course.

Gloomy skies threatened this year's event, but the well dressed crowd didn't shrink from the occasion, especially women in fancy hats. There was even a competition for the most outlandish hat. Samantha Swan says she made her own. "Plus these are feathers from my friend who is a falconer," she explains. "From her falcon."

Megan Grimes was a hat contest winner. "It's got the horses running and playing in the fields," she said.

Her friend Ann Wolf also won a prize for her hat. But all this was only prelude to the main event -- the steeplechase.

And the winner is

Jockey Carl Rafter won the day's second race over the 6.4 kilometer course. "There are about 19 fences and it felt like about 19 turns. Real fun to ride in. Going through the water is a little daunting," he said. "If anyone knows about young horses, they probably more than likely tend to go around puddles rather than go through them and it is because they can't see the bottom of the water ...and to do it and gallop at speed is a pretty bold thing for a horse to do."

Rafter revealed how he won on Scube Steve. "Hold On. Because he gallops, you know, he jumps. If you try and hold him up he loses too much energy. You know you're fighting him and he's fighting you," he said. "You're better off letting him have his own way."

A 13-year-old horse name Salmo finished first in the top race for the gold cup, reclaiming a title he won previously in 2007. His breeder, Sarah Collette, says Salmo is a tough horse to ride because he jumps so high. "He needs a very special, very courageous jockey," Collette said.

Salmo's owner, Irvin Naylor, also had praise for the jockey, Darren Nagle. "He rode a perfect race. Could not have had his timing any better. The horse responded and the result was a win," he said.

Nagle says he's surprised he won. "It is very nice of everyone to say I rode him well, but I was just a passenger," Nagle stated. "He's a 13-year old horse and he knows what he's doing."

And thousands of horse lovers were just spectators, gathered on a rainy, but still beautiful spring day in the Virginia countryside outside of Washington.