Colonial Season Ends With Small Increases

The handle at Colonial Downs increased a bit over its 2006 mark, while a moderate summer helped boost attendance at the central Virginia track, which concluded its 11th season of racing on Aug. 7.

Total wagering on live racing over Colonial’s 40-day meet was $49,006,598. The average daily handle was $1,225,165, the highest in Colonial’s history, up slightly over the 2006 mark of $1,221,202.

Attendance was 79,859, averaging 1,997 daily, an increase from the 78,597 and 1,804, respectively, from last year’s meet.

“By moving the Turf Cup, it cost us a little bit on the off-track which we never really recovered from,” commented Iain Woolnaugh, general manager at Colonial Downs. “When you look at the popularity of our track out there, the numbers and response was fantastic.”

Initially Colonial Downs had pursued airing both of its marquee 3-year old turf races, the $750,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) and the $1 million Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), on CBS, but was not able to finalize their arrangement for the Turf Cup. The Turf Cup was moved to Colonial’s opening weekend and head-to-head versus other major stakes races such as the $750,000 Stephen Foster (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

The Turf Cup was aired on HRTV and viewers saw Summer Doldrums set a track record in holding off Strike a Deal in the first leg of the Jacob’s Investments $5 million Grand Slam of Grass.

The Virginia Derby was aired nationally on CBS-TV for the first time on July 21 when longshot Red Giant also nosed out Strike a Deal in a barely decipherable track record photo finish. The handle on Virginia Derby day was $4,429,192 while attendance was 8,964, both records for Colonial’s signature event.

“A lot of things we have been working on over the last 10 years are really starting to show some fruit,” added Ian Stewart, Colonial’s chief financial officer. “The CBS broadcast brought the Grand Slam to another level where interest can continue to grow.”

An average of 9.1 horses came out of the starting gate 363 times during the meet, with 295 of those starts (81.2%) occurring over the turf.

Seven horses that started at Colonial Downs had to be euthanized due to injury, a frustrating figure that puzzled racing officials during the meet.

“Nothing was attributed to the racing surfaces and nothing was attributed to heat,” said Woolnaugh, who attributed the breakdowns to rotten luck. “We’ve had very good weather this year. Even the last couple days when we did run in excessive heat, we were very conscious of that, the horses, and nobody suffered.  They all came back and they all did well.”

Jockey Horatio Karamanos’ meet-leading 62 wins helped him become Colonial’s all-time leading rider with 292.  He was also winning rider of the Virginia Derby aboard Red Giant at 37-1. Trainer Hamilton Smith gathered 20 wins to claim the training title for the second year in a row.

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