Peace on turf, good will toward men. And horses.
That was the attitude Friday when, amid champagne toasts, the forces behind the Gold Cup steeplechase races announced a new seven-year lease at the Great Meadow Field Events Center near The Plains and put a formal, festive end to months of public bickering.
The private party at the Black Horse Inn outside Warrenton, where the terms of peace were announced, included testimonials from the two men at the heart of the sometimes messy dispute: local publisher Arthur W. "Nick" Arundel, who donated much of the land that became Great Meadow (and, under the new agreement, is to donate even more), and Melville Church III, president of the Virginia Gold Cup Association.
The association leases Great Meadow from the Meadow Outdoors Foundation for the spring Virginia Gold Cup and the fall International Gold Cup steeplechase races, which bring thousands of tailgating spectators to the county. The foundation had terminated the association's lease, in part because of disagreements over how much money generated by the races should be spent to maintain the course and how much should go to local charities.
Foundation board members had complained about the association's hardball tactics in trying to secure a new lease. Arundel, who is president of the foundation board, cited the association's "lack of commitment" to keeping Great Meadow as open space for local charitable events when he resigned from an association post last spring.
Church had said the foundation forced the association to contribute more to the upkeep of Great Meadow than to local charities, giving the races a "greedy" image.
But as a result of the new agreement, both sides are now accentuating the positive.
In a joint statement issued Monday, Church and foundation Chairman David M. Snyder, a Warrenton physician, said they were "confident that the seven-year agreement, providing for automatic future renewals, would serve as an excellent basis for the two organizations to continue to work together." Church said in a separate interview, "This is a fair agreement."
He said the key was a concession by Arundel to give the foundation an additional piece of property next to Great Meadow. Arundel had allowed that property to be used for the races, and Church had said that arrangement gave Arundel disproportionate sway over the decisions of both the association and foundation boards.
The cost of the lease varies from year to year, depending on ticket sales. The lease will be renewed automatically after seven years unless an objection is raised. In an interview Friday, Snyder said the new agreement would avoid controversies by creating a new mediation process.