Colonial Downs returns with short but successful race meet

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 10, 2019

Colonial Downs held its first meet since 2014, and the Virginia racetrack’s operator said the 15-day session was beyond successful.

The return of live racing to Virginia resulted from purchase of the facility and its off-track betting network by Colonial Downs Group, a subsidiary of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, and legislative approval for historical racing machines. The devices, which resemble video lottery terminals but are deemed pari-mutuel in nature, began operating earlier this year under the brand name “Rosie’s” at the New Kent racetrack and at gaming and simulcast facilities in Richmond and Vinton.

According to a release, total pari-mutuel handle for the 15 programs, all of which began at 5 p.m. EDT, was $15.58 million for an average of $1.17 million. Average field size was a healthy 8.53 given heavy reliance on grass racing, which always has been the track’s signature offering.

Colonial Downs reported distribution of $6.4 million in purse money, $1.5 million of which was for the stakes program. The average per program was $426,000.

Colonial Downs introduced owner and trainer participation incentive programs for the meet. Each owner received $1,000 per start for any horse that did not earn $1,000 in a race, and each trainer received $300 for each time they started a horse. That resulted in $614,000 in owner bonuses and $364,300 in trainer bonuses.

Colonial also established a mount fee schedule with a minimum fee of $125 per ride, the highest in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In preparation for the meet, a new irrigation system was installed for the Secretariat turf course; the 1 1/4-mile dirt track was renovated; and improvements were made to the stable area, paddock, receiving and test barns, dormitories, and jockeys’ room kitchen.

“On behalf of all of us at Colonial Downs, we are truly proud of our outstanding race meeting and the overwhelming response from our participating owners, trainers and jockeys and national racing media who embraced the return of Thoroughbred racing for our fans here in Virginia and across North America,” said Jill Byrne, Vice President of Racing Operations for Colonial Downs. “We are equally thankful for the dedication and support demonstrated by our racing department, officials and our track maintenance team, which worked long hours with great efficiency in conducting a safe and successful racing program.

“We are already starting to make plans for our next meet in 2020. We know we have set a very high standard with this first meet and we have every intention of meeting and exceeding that standard in years to come.”

Colonial Downs is expected to race perhaps 30 programs next year but details are not yet available as to when the meet—or meets—will be held. Mid-Atlantic tracks and horsemen’s groups this year have been discussing scheduling of stakes and race meets to maximize the region’s product.

The track announced enhanced health and safety protocols before the meet, and it reported no fatalities in racing or training. The Virginia Thoroughbred community for years has been actively involved in multiple reforms in the Mid-Atlantic region and is a participant in the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Racehorse Fatalities.

“We were very pleased with the way horsemen responded to our incentive program and our structural improvement to the facility,” said Allison Deluca, Colonial Downs Racing Secretary. “Establishing the highest standards in racing, coupled with a professional stabling environment for our trainers and their staffs, were our top priorities to ensure the highest quality and integrity of our product.”

David Ross (DARRS Inc.) was leading owner with five wins at the meet, while Mike Stidham and Jamie Ness tied atop the trainer standings with 10 wins each. Trevor McCarthy was leading rider with 15 victories.

Colonial Downs Group announced that through historical racing machines it has paid more than $3.5 million in taxes to the state and more than $2 million in taxes to Virginia localities.

For July 2019, the most recent month reported via the Virginia Racing Commission, historical racing handle totaled $142.78 million. That breaks down to $71.2 million in Richmond, $48.9 million at Colonial Downs and $22.5 million in Vinton. The licensee received 5.81%, or $8.2 million.

Colonial Downs Group said it will make a $300 million investment in Virginia and create 1,000 jobs by the end of 2019. It projects $25 million a year in revenue for the state, $17 million in local tax revenue and $25 million for the horse industry.

(Photo courtesy of Coady Photography)