With new ownership, renovated facilities, and a $300 million investment into Virginia racing in progress, Colonial Downs is set to usher in a new era of thoroughbred racing this coming Thursday August 8th with a ten-race program beginning at 5 PM. Thoroughbred horses last ran at Colonial in the summer of 2013.
A total of 107 horses entered the opening day card during the track's first draw Saturday. Purses for the opener range from $30,000 – $70,000, and a total of $515,000 will be distributed over the ten races. Eight will be contested over the Secretariat Turf Course, the widest grass surface in the country, and three feature full 14 horse fields. The other two will be held over Colonial's 1 1/4 miles dirt oval.
Featured race is a 5 1/2 furlong, $70,000 allowance optional claiming race on turf, carded as the ninth race. Ten of the eleven entrants bring six figure bankrolls into New Kent including top earner Sharp Art who will be making his 50th lifetime start. The 7-year-old Sharp Art gelding is trained by Thomas Vance, who is competing in New Kent for the first time. The tenth race is the final leg of a 50 cent Pick-5 wager that features an industry-low 12% takeout.
Secondary feature is a $65,000 turf allowance for 2-year-olds at the same 5 1/2 furlong distance, carded as race three. A pair of $60,000 races will be run during the Pick-5 including a one mile allowance/optional claimer on dirt that attracted eight horses in the sixth, and a 1 1/16th miles turf race that drew a field of eight for the eighth.
“I think we had a very nice response from horsemen for the first draw,” said Director of Racing Allison De Luca. “We made allowance races, didn't get out of the book, and have a lot ship ins scheduled. We had a great day. Nothing ever meets my expectations,” she added, “But today was pretty darn good.”
Long time fans will see a combination of familiar faces along with an assortment of new ones. All time leading rider Horacio Karamanos has seven mounts, one of which will be atop all time leading trainer Ferris Allen's expected favorite in the second race, Speed App. Allen has one other horse entered Thursday. All time leading owner David Ross, who is President of the of the Virginia HBPA and uses the stable name DARRs, Inc., has a trio set to compete including Orbert in the kickoff race. Riders and fan favorites like Forest Boyce and Sheldon Russell have scheduled mounts Thursday. Newcomers include the country's 17th and 21st top money earning riders, Trevor McCarthy and Paco Lopez. Jorge Vargas Jr. is 54th in money earnings and Daniel Centeno is 70th. J.D. Acosta has 3,271 career wins heading into this week's action.
An average of $500,000 in purse monies will be distributed daily, or $7.5 million for the meet purse. $1.8 million of that figure will de dedicated to a series of weekend stakes races headlined by the Grade 3, $250,000 New Kent County Virginia Derby and the $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Virginia Oaks on August 31st. A pair of Virginia-Bred Stakes nights will be held on the meet's opening and closing Saturday programs and feature a slate of $100,000 stakes. Two steeplechase races will be contested every Saturday including the $50,000 Randolph D. Rouse Stakes on September 7th.
“We have high hopes for this season,” said VP of Racing Operations Jill Byrne, who left Kentucky in February to come back to Virginia and help lead the rebirth. “Besides an extremely attractive purse schedule and top notch racing surfaces, we've added owner and trainer participation incentives to help horsemen. Owners of horses that finish after fourth place will receive $1,000 and trainers will receive $300 per start regardless of where they finish.”
From a customer perspective, lower takeout rates will greet fans come Thursday. In addition to the Pick-5 reduction, rates on win, place and show bets drop from 18% to 16% while rates on exacta, trifecta, superfecta, daily double, Pick-3 and Pick-4 wagers drop from 22% to 20%. Minimum cost is ten cents for a superfecta, fifty cents for a trifecta, Pick-3, Pick-4 and Pick-5, one dollar for an exacta and daily double, and the traditional two dollars for a win, place or show bet.
“With our new pricing, daily Pick-5 and the late afternoon post of 5 PM (EDT), we hope players around the country take notice,” added Byrne. “Our simulcast signal will start toward the end of Saratoga's card then run in conjunction with Del Mar's thru the evening hours. On track fans can expect a completely new experience. Every aspect has been freshened up, from the paddock, to the infield tote, to the dining rooms and beyond.”
Colonial Downs continues its comeback season through September 7th with racing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5 PM. General admission is free. Tickets for reserved grandstand and box seats, the Jockey Club, 1609 Turf Club Restaurant and Sky Suites are available at colonialdowns.com. The track is located at Exit 214 off I-64 in New Kent, halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg. The New Kent venue also features a Rosie's Gaming Emporium which hosts 600 Historical Horse Racing terminals.
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