(Anything But) Far From The Madras Crowd

by J. Tobias Beard

Description of day at Foxfield, the local steeplechase race that’s become a Charlottesville tradition, famous for excess in both fashion and alcohol. Published in the spring of 2006, this was my second piece for C-VILLE, and my third piece of published journalism .

As I sit in a line of traffic that seems almost Soviet in its length and sense of hopelessness, it occurs to me that the phrase “Jockey Shorts” is basically redundant.

Tailgaters at Foxfield Races in 1985, photo by George Chinsee

There are in attendance this 28th running of the Foxfield Races approximately 250 police type people. Yes, there is a lot of pastel and khaki, and seersucker, and bow ties. There are a lot of big hats and several tents where big hats are being sold, so that it’s never too late to fit in. There is an astonishing number of young men wearing pink, most of whom I suspect would not do so at any other time. There are pickup trucks with staggering amounts of liquor in the back, and, at 9:30 in the morning, there are people drinking. At 11:15 I see my first arrest, and at 11:19 my second. There will be many more. There are vast swaths of white skin slowly turning red. In the purple (read non-student) section there are silver candelabras, and real glass champagne flutes, and an atmosphere that is more garden party then sporting event. In the college section there are hookahs, and cups that say “If you saw a horse, then you weren’t at Foxfield.” But let’s get one thing straight, there are a lot of people here who do watch the races, and they care a great deal about the outcome. Money is changing hands, trophies are being vied for, and there is a dumb, foam flecked, effort being expended by the horses that is purely for our entertainment, and as such seems noble and righteous beyond anything that we humans will do on this day. And there is a palpable thrill that comes when man and beast are straining, and striving, and surging for an invisible line of glory right in front of you.

There are lawn jockeys, and there are real jockeys, and up close the real jockeys look exactly like you have always imagined they’d look. By 1:00 there is never not a line for the porta-potties, and their condition I will leave to your imagination. That it is advisable to seek out the porta-potties in the non- student area should pretty much go without saying.

And yes, there is vomiting, and public urination, and falling down. There are lidded eyes, and tears, and incoherent shouts by people oddly proud of the fact that they are standing on top of a car. The students are what they have always been, and there is something very sad about having every cliché and all of your absolute lowest expectations so stunningly fulfilled. But there is also the sound of thundering hooves, the sharp hiss of horse flesh against the tops of the jumps, the gasp of the crowd when a half ton beast hits the ground hard bringing with it the 100 pound human on its back. And sunshine, and blue skies, and an amazing amount of garbage, none of which seems to make it into the trash cans. After it is all over the sky is filled with buzzards intent on feeding on the remains of a day in the Virginia countryside. This is Foxfield Races, and it also is what it has always been; now and forever, much more than some of its parts.