Queen's Cup Steeplechase
Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Queen's Cup Steeplechase 6103 Waxhaw Hwy Waxhaw, NC 28173
Year Opened: 1996
Steeplechase on the US side of the Pond
The Queen’s Cup is held every year in May at a turf course outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike traditional flat racing in the US, which is usually held on dirt courses, steeplechases are run on grass and include jumps over water, ditches, and other hurdles. The races take up to 5 minutes, and may require the horses to go around the track more than once, depending on the length of each race.
I had never been to a steeplechase before (only American flat racing), and I have to say it was quite an experience. Many people arrived dressed to the nines, like you might imagine they do in English racing circles, and a fun time was had by all.
Food & Beverage 2
Most attendees bring their own food and drink to the races here, including alcohol – there are certain sections, like Member’s Hill, with much higher ticket prices that include catered food and free drinks, but the majority pack in what they want for the day.
There are only two concession stands, a BBQ food truck plus a popsicle stand near the center of the infield, although the souvenir tents do sell bottled water and canned sodas for $2 each. Also, after the races are over for the day, all attendees are invited onto Member’s Hill for free hors d’oeuvres and bottled water/soda (plus a cash bar) at the Hot Walk Party, but that is not until after 4:30 pm or so. That said, you may want to bring your own food, as there isn’t much on site during the day – coolers are allowed, and you will see many people dragging or carrying them in, even taking them along on the shuttle bus rides.
The atmosphere is absolutely festive, especially early in the day – there are many activities besides the racing, including Corgi races, free pony rides, tailgating, a hat contest (remember I said many people dress to the nines), and you can also walk up to the paddock before each race and see the horses led around before the jockeys mount. There is also the Hot Walk party after the races which I mentioned above, which includes a live band and dancing, as well as the free food and open bar. There is also a military display by members of the National Guard, the walking of the hounds, and a pipe band as part of the opening ceremonies.
The gates open at 10 am, and a lot of the festivities I mentioned above happen before the racing begins, which will be around 1 pm or 1:30 (the opening ceremonies start at 12:30). There are five races on the card, with about 35 to 40 minutes between racing, so there can start to be a little bit of boredom later in the afternoon as you wait around between the races. Fortunately on the day I went it was a little cloudy and there was a nice breeze, so it wasn’t too hot nor too sunny, but if the sun is out you may want to find some shade, especially if you are dressed up in coat and tie or hoop skirt (there are plenty of shade trees around). Of course, if you bought a ticket in one of the tented areas you will be protected as well.
The racing itself is fairly exciting – you can walk right up to the fences and hedges all around the course to see the horses close up, less than 1 foot away from you (you can feel the pounding of their collective hooves as they thunder by), and the announcers do a great job in calling the race and making it the event even more exciting.
I will say, however, that there probably isn’t anywhere you can sit or stand that allows you to see the whole race – the course is over a mile long, and as there is no grandstand on site you likely will only be able to see part of each race. The best place to stand is probably near the finish line, which is near the paddock and winner’s circle; there are a couple of jumps there, so you should still be able to see some of the “good parts” if you are near the finish. You can also walk across the course when the horses are not running, if you want to get a different view for a different race.
The Queen’s Cup course is located in Waxhaw, NC in what many might consider the middle of nowhere – there is very little around, except for a couple of gas stations and some Dollar General stores, so if you plan to be in town for the weekend you may have to go into Monroe (about 10-15 minutes away), to find any restaurants and hotels. Downtown Charlotte is about forty-five minutes away, so that could also be an option if you are looking for some more interesting attractions.
For something off the beaten path, there is a two-by-two petting zoo near Waxhaw called Why Not an American Ark (WNAAA), where you can pet exotic animals – some of which I didn’t even recognize – and dogs and farm animals as well.
The fans at the Queen’s Cup are decent, but most of them seem to be there just to party and hang out – they don’t appear to care much about the racing itself. Don’t get me wrong, they enjoy dressing up and tailgating, including all the typical things that go along with it like cornhole and drinking (I didn’t see any grilling so I am not sure that is allowed), but the racing itself was be a little ho-hum for most.
There is a little cheering that happens at the finish, and there are rumors of friendly wagers occurring (but technically wagering on horses is not legal in North Carolina, so there is nothing official of course), but most attendees just seem to be there enjoying the day out.
Getting to the Queen’s Cup is a little rough, and getting around is as well – there is a lot of traffic backed up on the country roads around the track, so instead of waiting endlessly at the traffic lights, I ended up backtracking and going far out of my way to find a clear path; I did this when I arrived as well as when I left. That said you may want to try and arrive early.
Once you park, there are shuttles that take you from the parking lots to the course itself, but it was a bit of a wait, so on the way in I just ended up walking, which worked out fine, it wasn’t too terribly long (I did take a shuttle on the way back, as I happened upon an empty one right when I left the course). Note that the parking is in giant, slightly hilly grass fields, so an SUV or Truck helps if you have one.
Once you get to the course the only way to get around is by walking, so most people just stayed in their assigned areas – there were not many people who walked over to the middle of the infield, for example, for food and souvenirs, nor to see the Lamborghinis, military vehicles, and weapons displayed there, nor to participate in the free pony rides. There are a ton of people at the event, and you can see the myriad tents on the outside of the course, as well as the huge swath of people tailgating by the lake, but most of them just stay in those spots.
On the plus side, this meant that the concession lines and bathroom lines (port-a-johns only) were very short. Not very many people walked over to the paddock or finish line either; most people just watched from the hedges around the course that were near their spaces.
Return on Investment 5
The cheapest ticket to see the Queen’s Cup is the $75 general admission fare ($100 if you buy at the door, so buy early). For that price I think it was absolutely worthwhile, especially if you have never seen a steeplechase before. Parking is included in that price, and since you can bring your own food and drinks you don’t have to spend anything on concessions.
There are much more expensive tickets, however – spaces on Member’s Hill run $395 per person (yes, close to $400), although they include catered food and free drinks. There are also a number of other options, including tailgating spots in the infield (some tented, some not) and tented tailgate spots on the outer ring of the course, and you will see many of those tents with a car or trucked parked underneath – I am not sure how much those cost, but I am not sure about them; I would rather spend less money and get to enjoy the activities near the infield, rather than sitting in one place all day, but to each their own.
As I mentioned, all attendees get to attend the Hot Walk part after the races, including those with the $75 tickets, so that certainly adds to the value you are getting here.
I mentioned the Hot Walk party; I mentioned the free pony rides and Corgi races, as well as the Lamborghinis and military displays in the infield. It is also a plus that all patrons can walk up to see the horses parade around the paddock before each race, and not only those with a Member’s Hill pass. The lake view is also nice, and the numerous shade trees are a blessing.
I would highly recommend a visit to the Queen’s Cup – be aware of the concessions/access set-up so you know what you’re getting into, but if you plan ahead you can make it work a little more smoothly (for example you can buy the close parking if you plan far enough ahead, which I did not). But even if you don’t it will work out fine – I was running late due to the traffic, but I was still able to make it in with plenty of time to spare before the first race.
Also, I thought the steeplechase racing was phenomenal – on one hand I missed the grandstand seating where I could have seen the whole race more easily, but on the other hand, I got to see the horses up close and personal at the jumps, and feel the pounding of their hooves; I can’t say enough about that. Despite the minor challenges I had a great time, and I know you will too.