April is an eventful month in Charlotte; the weather spins into something that resembles the most agreeable times of the year, the cotton candy sunsets come later in the day, and the blooming trees paint the roadsides and hillsides with unbeatable displays of Mother Nature’s awakening from her winter slumber. It is hard to ask for anything more perfect than a beautiful April day in the Queen City.
This is likely why one of the most decorative and weather dependent events in Charlotte happens in April- the highly anticipated annual Steeplechase, The Queen’s Cup.
Come the third week of the fourth month of the year, little Mineral Springs, usually a whisper quite undefined village of sleepy pastures and patient agriculture, bursts into life as suddenly as the budding leaves seem to burst onto the trees while no one is looking. The narrow back roads transform from tractor-traveled to traffic jam as patrons, awaiting pomp and circumstance, pile into the Brooklandwood Racecourse.
Beginning in 1996, the steeplechase has become a pageantry of showmanship, equestrianism, and style that rivals places like the Kentucky Derby. Attendees pack picnic baskets and lawn blankets and sprawl among the manicured green grass, sipping something bubbly and fine, just steps away from the dirt track. A general admission ticket will get you so close to the action that you can feel the ground thunder and the air part as the hooves of magnificent animals, topped by world class riders collide with the racecourse. The only thing parting onlookers from the tornado of speed, hooves, heels, hats and manes is a row of meticulously trimmed bushes that look as though they have been plucked directly from the pages of a Babar the Elephant storybook.
If one is so inclined, they may find themselves in the shade of a canopy, tented along one of the more desirable views that surround the track. Rented in advanced, these white decorative impermanent shelters come with a variety of optional add-ons to make the day as convenient as one would like. Choose a food or beverage package, tables with linens, or a florist’s professional touch to take the setup from “camping” to “glamping”. Walking among the array of tents along the outer loop of the track brings a delight for the senses; voluminous arrangements of fresh flowers, tables sprawling with delicious treats of all kind, hands grasping aperitifs from Old Fashions to Manhattans, and the never to be overshadowed crushendo of derby wear energize the air. Strolling along the path is to take a stroll back in time to the more eloquent parts of early 19th century high society, in dress, deed, and decorum.
The most eye catching structure on the racetrack are the impeccable white risers that mark the most elite crowd of the Derby day. The permanent seating unfold from the edge of the racetrack unto the exclusive boxes above, where racehorse owners and their families mingle among race royalty- no doubt enjoying themselves as much as soothing their nerves of anticipation over the results of the upcoming competition. They trade stories of the year-so-far in racing, secrets of jockeys, and gossip around expected wins and loses.
Aside from the main event, a race named after a countryside dash on horseback to the church steeple, the The Queen’s Cup offers a plethora of entertainment and activities for ages young and old, budgets large and small. Whether you find yourself sipping Dom Perignon high above the white risers, watching the chestnut thoroughbreds gracefully circling the track as soundless, almost winged creatures, or perched on a plaid picnic blanket with a hard ginger cider in your hand, feeling the trembling earth beneath you as the pounding energy passes you by in a fantasmic blur of sound and fury; you’re sure to have a day to remember at Brooklawnwoods. Join the crowds on Saturday, April 27th, for a day of horses, hurrah, and general merriment; and don’t forget your hat and sunscreen!