Spearheaded by large fields, an influx of nationally-rated horsemen and strong reviews for both the dirt and turf courses, Colonial Downs officials are very encouraged by the overall results of the first week of Thoroughbred racing at the track in six years.
The “Racing Revival” at Colonial was launched last Thursday with a 10-race card, which produced 93 starters and $1,562,390 wagered on the program. The first week concluded Saturday evening, highlighted by four stakes races for Virginia-breds and $667,000 offered in total purses.
Average field size for the 30 races over the first three days of the 15-day meeting was 8.7 per race.
“We had a very satisfying first week for the return of racing in Virginia and Colonial Downs for our fans and horsemen,” said Jill Byrne, Vice President of Racing Operations for Colonial Downs, which is a subsidiary of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. “Our fans on-track, and those wagering through simulcast and online outlets across enjoyed three outstanding evenings of racing with large and competitive fields. We were especially gratified by the support from horsemen for our Virginia-bred racing program.”
On track attendance was estimated at 9,800 patrons over the three days, including an estimated 4,800 on Saturday.
“Considering Colonial's renewal status, we were pleased with the re-introduction of the meet and are especially proud of the reception shown by Virginians who supported the on-track turnout,” said John Marshall, Colonial Downs Executive Vice President. “This is a great win for Virginia, where racing in this country began back in the 1700s. We anticipate our first week's response to spur increased interest among fans and horsemen.”
Colonial Downs is offering daily purses averaging a minimum of $500,000, which will comprise an approximate $7.5 million in total purses allocated for the meeting.
Trainers Michael Matz, Shug McGaughey, Graham Motion, Dallas Stewart, Jonathan Thomas and Ian Wilkes among many others, all started horses during the first week. Jamie Ness leads all trainers with three wins in six starts. Michael Stidham and Tom Vance each have two wins. Former leading trainer at Colonial Downs, Ferris Allen III won the second race on opening night.
As it is important for Colonial Downs officials to attract national stables, the responses from horsemen supporting the Virginia-bred program were illuminating.
“What's special about this day (Saturday) is that it rewards all the breeders that hung in there for all those years and kept on breeding Virginia-breds,” said Phil Schoenthal, who trained Morgan's Ford Farm homebred 5-year-old River Deep to win the $100,000 Edward P. Evans Stakes on Saturday evening. “It would have been very easy to ship their mares to Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York or everywhere else so it gratifying to see these people being rewarded with $100,000 purses in their home state, on a beautiful night at a beautiful racetrack. It's a great night for Virginia racing and Virginia horse breeders.”
Owner/Trainer Karen Godsey was both ecstatic and emotional after Eagle Point Farm's 4-year-old homebred filly What the Beep won the $100,000 M. Tyson Gilpin Stakes earlier on the program. “My family fought so hard for Colonial Downs to get here originally, then fought so hard for it to come back. This mare's dam was the first winner I had as a trainer, and to win in front of this huge crowd was awesome. It's hard to put into words how I feel. I'm so happy and thankful for all the people that worked so hard to get the track up and running again.”
Among the jockeys after three days of racing, Daniel Centeno leads all riders with four wins, all of which were registered on Friday evening. Forest Boyce, Trevor McCarthy, Sheldon Russell and Mychel Sanchez also have three wins apiece. Russell leads in total purses with $156,600.
On his reaction to winning the first race at Colonial Downs in six years last Thursday, Sanchez said, “It was pretty awesome. This was my first time here and it's a beautiful place. Happy for everyone to get it back going again. The turf is amazing.”
Racing resumes at Colonial Downs on Thursday evening at 5 p.m. ET with a nine-race program.
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