Colonial Downs Adds Dirt Races to Draw Horses

Colonial Downs will offer more races on the dirt this summer, according to a marketing plan presented Wednesday to the Virginia Racing Commission. Live Thoroughbred racing returns to Virginia on July 3.

"We're hoping with the increased purses, we can fill the dirt races," said John Mooney, president of the Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit, who presented the plan to racing commissioners. "We need to have a mixture."

Mooney estimated that 60% of the races will be on the turf, down from up to 80% in previous years. With the new mixture of races, Colonial Downs hopes to entice trainers already coming to bring more horses and lure new trainers. Mooney also hopes trainers will keep more horses on the grounds through the end of the meet.

"It's also to satisfy people that breed in Virginia that have horses that do not do well on the turf," he said.

Mooney also reported that the conversion of the dirt track from the harness surface was completed Tuesday.

Colonial Downs will race Friday through Tuesday with post times at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 4:00 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during the first week. Virginia Derby Day is July 14. Two steeplechase races are scheduled during the meet. The racing office is expected to open June 18 and the track opens for training June 24. Mooney said these dates may be moved up.

In other news, Anne Poulson who is a member of the Maryland-Virginia Racing Task Force indicated that Colonial Downs will renew its membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Terms of the renewal are expected to be finalized within the next week. The task force's first meeting is scheduled for May 30 in Richmond at the Markel Corporate Offices. Topics to be addressed include additional simulcasting centers, account wagering, and the growth of racing dates. Task force meetings will be open to the public and will be held at different sites around the state.

Stan Bowker, executive director of the Virginia Racing Commission, reported that handle in Virginia is up 3.5% over the same period of last year. Through April 30, $41 million has been wagered in Virginia.