Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va.
Highlighted by more than $10 million in purse distribution, a new all-time daily average handle, and wide participation from some of America’s leading racing stables, jockeys and trainers, Colonial Downs concluded its 2021 record-setting meeting this week in a spectacularly successful fashion.
The 2021 Colonial Downs race meeting presented by Woodford Reserve was the third season under the banner of the Colonial Downs Group, and fans were welcomed back to the track for a 21-day Virginia-festive racing program, following a shortened meeting last year due to COVID-19. This year, the New Kent track expanded its meet to seven weeks and, in a scheduling departure from earlier years, conducted racing Monday through Wednesday afternoons instead of evening programs later in the week.
Incentivized by a minimum daily purse structure of $521,676, powerhouse stables like Godolphin and Juddmonte, and renowned trainers like Shug McGaughey, Graham Motion, Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen, and jockeys Jose Ortiz and Manny Franco, competed for $10,441,300 in total purses.
As further proof of Colonial’s progress in the Middle Atlantic region, a total of 725 horses were stabled on the grounds. In addition to those based in Virginia, horsemen participating in the meeting came from Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
In all, total handle for the 21-days was $46,867,078, good for a record average daily handle of $2,231,765. The 2019 meet ─ which was 15 days over five weeks ─ produced an average handle of $1,166,666, for a more that 91 percent increase.
“It is so gratifying to see the continued revival of Virginia racing as we mark new all-time handle heights,” said John Marshall, Colonial Downs Group Executive Vice President, Operations. “We have held true to our promise of building Colonial Downs into one of the country’s elite boutique meets. We thank our horsemen, fans and team for doing their part in making it so.”
The Colonial racing program generated a total of 1,713 starters for the 205 races conducted this year, for an average of 8.36 runners per race. A total of 148 races were contested over Colonial’s signature Secretariat Turf Course ─ the widest grass racing surface in the country. A total of 1,325 horses competed over turf, an average of 8.85 starters per race; and 388 horses participated in 57 dirt races for an average of 6.81 per race.
The 2021 meeting was also conducted under the strictest safety and security protocols. These practices played a major role resulting in zero racing or equine fatalities and placed Colonial Downs among the country’s best on The Jockey Club’s Equine Industry Database (EID).
Colonial’s record setting season finished on a high note this week with 10 stakes over the final two race days on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The $250,000 New Kent County Virginia Derby (G3) presented by Woodford Reserve card on Tuesday (Aug. 31) established a new all-sources handle single-day record of $4,890,704 million. The tally was 10% higher than the previous best of $4.4 million which was set on Virginia Derby Day 2008 when star attraction Gio Ponti won the featured event.
Trainer Graham Motion, who won the 2019 Virginia Derby with English Bee, had a memorable day in the stake’s 18th running. Motion saddled Madaket Stables’ 3-year-old Wootton Asset to a three-quarters of a length victory over Slicked Back, giving him two straight Derby triumphs (the race was not held in 2020). Motion also won the $150,000 TAA Old Nelson Stakes that day with Tuned and finished second in the $150,000 Woodford Reserve Virginia Oaks with Invincible Gal.
Besides generating a record handle, the 2021 Virginia Derby generated a healthy on-site media presence as TVG, Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) and Daily Racing Form (DRF Live) all were broadcasting and promoting Virginia’s showcase day. TVG, the official broadcast partner, aired all the races from New Kent this meet.
Wednesday ‘s (Sept. 1) closing card ─ highlighted by five $100,000 stakes for Virginiabred/sired horses ─ produced the largest non-Derby Day all sources handle ever: $3,421,338.
In addition to the outstanding racing, Virginia Derby Day was also a terrific fan-friendly experience, accented by food trucks, family fun on the track apron, and the close proximity of the patrons to the Thoroughbreds.
As an important recognition to retired racehorses, Colonial Downs and the Virginia HBPA partnered with the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) in a meet-long initiative. Each group donated $15 per starter over the course of the meet. A check in the mount of $51,390 was presented to TAA officials in the winner’s circle on Virginia Derby Day.
“The 2021 Colonial Downs race meet was such a great success thanks to the support of so many. We are grateful to all the horsemen, patrons, fans and industry stakeholders for being a part of this fabulous summer of racing in Virginia,” said Jill Byrne, Colonial Downs Vice President of Racing Operations. “I am so proud of the incredible job that our racing team and track team have done by providing a fantastic and very safe racing season. “
Among other meet highlights was the return of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) series to Colonial Downs for the first time since 2001. Four $100,000 stakes were contested Aug. 23 over Colonial’s 1 1/4 miles dirt oval. By the end of the afternoon, three new track records were established. Just Might’s 1:07.38 at 6 furlongs in the Chesapeake Stakes, Cheetara’s 1:20.61 at 7 furlongs in the Seeking the Pearl Stakes, and Saracosa’s 1:39.72 at 1 1/16th miles in the Love Sign Stakes all shattered previous dirt marks.
Colonial hosted two non-betting steeplechase races every Monday before the pari-mutuel races began ─ for a total of 12 in all. Trainer Neil Morris, who is based at the Middleburg Training Center, won four of those with Choo Choo, Ritzy A.P., Vincent Van Gogo, and Junonia. The Jump signature race was the Aug. 9, $75,000 Randolph D. Rouse Stakes, won by Theodore Gregory’s Screen Image.
Competition for leading jockey, trainer and owner titles was extremely keen. In the battle for leading jockey Horacio Karamanos and Joe Rocco Jr. finished in a tie with 20 wins apiece. Heading into final day action on Wednesday, Karamanos led 19-18. Rocco scored early with No Slo Mo in the third to move into a tie with 19 apiece and forged ahead with a win atop Eye Black in the in the sixth. Karamanos, Colonial’s all-time leading jockey, answered with a win in the 10th race aboard Passion Play in the $100,000 Edward P. Evans Stakes. Both had a mount in the final race with a chance to seal the title outright, but neither won. Mychel Sanchez was third with 12 wins followed by Colby Hernandez and Kevin Gomez with 10 each. Karamanos was the leading money earning jockey ─ horses he rode earned $687,700.
Hamilton Smith led all trainers with 10 wins. Heading into Wednesday’s card, Smith was tied with Michelle Lovell ─ a Kentucky based trainer competing at Colonial for the first time ─ with 9 wins each. On Wednesday, Smith scored in the first race with All Threes to gain the one-win advantage which he maintained. Lovell did not have any horses starting on Wednesday. Michael Trombetta was third with 8 wins followed by Michael Tomlinson (7) and Ferris Allen (6), Carlos Munoz (6) and Neil Morris (6). Trombetta was the leading money earning trainer with $491,650.
Larry Johnson, owner of Legacy Farm in Bluemont, Virginia, was the leading owner with 6 wins, beating PTK, LLC who had 5. Johnson scored with Mr. Jefferson, Spun Glass, Ziap Line To Heaven, Street Copper, Never Enough Time, and Street Silence. David Ross (Colonial’s all-time leading owner) had 4 as did CM Thoroughbreds and GOP Racing Stable.
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