During a cool spring morning in April, Iain Woolnaugh updated the Virginia Racing Commission on the status of the Secretariat turf course at Colonial Downs for the upcoming meet.
The track’s general manager explained there had been plenty of rain, plenty fertilizer had been applied, and he just needed some warmer temperatures to spurt the growth of the Bermuda grass.
Woolnaugh’s request was granted--and then some. With temperatures forecast to hover in the triple digits until June 11, Colonial Downs prepared for a warm opening to its meet June 9. Thoroughbred racing fans in Virginia, after waiting 307 days for live racing to return, will have to wait an extra hour because Colonial Downs moved first post time back an hour to 6 p.m. EDT for the first two days of its meet.
Forecasters claim relief is on the way by mid-week. By June 13, temperatures are expected to top out in the lower 80s.
“The outside turf course is fine,” Woolnaugh said. “By (June 13) it will be perfect. We had some overnight temperatures (the week of June 1) that were in the 40s, so it went back a bit into dormant mode. We will only be using the outside turf (June 9-11). This inside turf just needs a couple more days.”
Heavy late spring rains had more of an effect on Colonial Downs’ inner turf course. Surface drainage on the banked turf flows from the outside in.
Colonial Downs will race Fridays through Tuesdays through Aug. 7, with a special Wednesday card June 11.
Woolnaugh said he’s pleased with the early nominations for Colonial Downs’ signature turf races for 3-year olds, the $600,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) June 21 and the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) July 19. In the future, Woolnaugh would like to have the purse of the $60,000 Kitten’s Joy (July 19 this year) increased to bring top performers back to Virginia.
“I’d like to get the Kitten’s Joy increased to at least $200,000 to get the 3-year old horses back as older horses,” Woolnaugh said. “I want to give the owners and trainers an opportunity to bring them back.”
In regard to the heat, Woolnaugh said Colonial Downs will have extra hoses and ice buckets available, have shortened post parades, and added staff to help wash down horses. The Virginia Racing Commission crew usually stationed in the air-conditioned test barn has volunteered to be in the paddock to assist with the horses after racing.