The Secretariat Turf Course at Colonial Downs was intentionally set ablaze March 22 as the Virginia track undertook a “controlled burn” in an effort to get the grass to re-grow in time for the meet that begins June 2.
According to a release from the track, track superintendent J.D. Thomas, facilities director Dawes Lee, Paul Reir of the Virginia Department of Forestry, and members of the New Kent Fire Department burned the 1 1/8-mile course in its entirety. The team began the burn in the far turn, went down the stretch through the first turn, and up the backstretch until they ended where they began.
Thomas said burning the grass off instead of cutting it saved time and also enabled the nutrients from the grass to be embedded in the soil. It is estimated the new grass will begin to grow within a week.
“The burn actually drives the nutrients down into the soil,” said Thomas, who has wanted to utilize this unique method for several years. “The dormant leaf that sits atop the Bermuda grass is dead anyway, and that’s what burns. If we were to cut and blow that leaf the way we normally do, it would take 10 days and we’d lose the nutrients. The entire burn took less than two hours and we saved the nutrients.”
The track crew put 12,000 gallons of water down before the burn--6,000 gallons inside the turf course and another 6,000 outside the track’s perimeter. According to Colonial Downs, from a distance the turf course looks like a NASCAR track.
Colonial Downs opens its summer season June 2 with the Strawberry Hill races. After opening weekend, the track will race with a 7 p.m. post time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and a Sunday afternoon post of 12:55 p.m.