Colonial Downs begins its 2009 meet June 5.

Colonial Downs begins its 2009 meet June 5.

Coady Photography

Colonial Downs Ready to Launch 2009 Season

Colonial Downs begins its 2009 meet June 5.

Opening day at Colonial Downs comes a week earlier this year when live racing returns June 5. The following day, Colonial Downs will be open for the first time ever on the same day as a Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

The 40-day meet has five fewer days than in 2008. Colonial Downs, which cards a large percentage of its races on the turf, will race Fridays through Tuesdays. Post time is 6 p.m. EDT Fridays, 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and 12:55 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Early nominations for the Virginia track’s two signature races, the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) June 20 and $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) July 18, closed May 27 with fewer nominations than last year. Emerging turf colts have used the Virginia Derby as a springboard to future successes.

Gio Ponti , the 2008 winner, continues to collect graded turf wins. Red Giant(2007) has the world record at a mile and a quarter on the turf. Go Between(2006) has fared well on synthetic surfaces after a solid turf career.

English Channel (2005) gave the four-race Jacobs Investments $5-million Grand Slam a run for the money, while Kitten's Joy (2004) provided the inspiration for the Grand Slam. Even Silver Tree(2003) continues to race at age 9.

Colonial Downs racing secretary Tyler Pickelsimer believes this year’s class is capable of meeting high expectations despite the decrease in nominations.

“We’re in good shape quality-wise,” Pickelsimer said. “We had fewer nominations (16) than last year, but it should be a strong race.”

Among those on the list are Triple Crown starters Chocolate Candy, Summer Bird, Take the Points, and Atomic Rain. Others are El Crespo, Affirmatif, Orthodox, Sleepless Knight, Battle of Hastings, and Giant Oak.

The sentimental choice among the nominees is Nicanor, Barbaro’s full brother who won by more than 15 lengths on the Delaware Park turf May 13. Barbaro didn’t get a chance to compete in the Colonial Downs turf races, but his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, won the Colonial Turf Cup with Showing Up in 2006.

As the live racing season gets under way, racing industry officials are paying more attention to “gray slots” in Virginia. The computerized gaming machines are being played in truck stops and Internet cafes with PCs or phone-card machines.

In several cases, parlors with the devices have been opened near off-track betting outlets operated by Colonial Downs, one in the same shopping center. The Virginia Racing Commission May 20 heard several accounts by visitors to the slots parlors.

With almost no written advertising, gray slots operate for short periods of time, relying on word of mouth to attract players. Gray slots, which take cash or vouchers, have attained enough weekend popularity to generate long lines and necessitate waiting rooms, officials said.

VRC executive director Vic Harrison forwarded concerns about the machines’ legality, regulation, and taxation to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. One truck stop near Virginia’s border with North Carolina was found to have more than 20 pre-paid phone card machines. In another, a Colonial Downs employee reported to have won $500 in her first visit to Williamson Plaza Internet Café in Roanoke.

Virginia law only allows for wagering by means of state-operated lotteries, charitable gaming such as bingo, and pari-mutuel horse racing.

Neighboring West Virginia was home to thousands of gray slots, but several years ago began licensing them to generate revenue. The devices are located in small cafes, some of which are near the state’s racetracks, which have video lottery terminals.