As Colonial Downs's opens its summer meet Friday, spectators coming to New Kent will see more racing on its dirt course as well as some changes to the facility, both exterior and interior.
There are six more days of live racing in 2005, and there will be more diversity at the track known for its turf racing.
John Mooney, general manager of Colonial Downs, won't take offense should he be accused of watching the grass grow this spring. It's part of his job.
"We've had one of the coolest springs in the area on record and Bermuda grass doesn't grow well in the cool weather. The hot weather that we've had this week has certainly helped," said Mooney. "I'd like to give it an extra week to 10 days of growing before we start using it more frequently. We have to look at preserving the grass over the longer meet and be more conscious of its wear. Our goal is to have 60-70% of our races on the grass versus the 85%-90% that we've had in the past (as a goal)."
Turf racing, Colonial's niche, comprised 91% the races in 2002 and 75% in 2003. Last year, having the wettest June on record and rains continuing well into July, only 56% of its races were held on the Secretariat Turf Course. The first three races on Friday's opening night card are on the dirt. Five of the nine races are on the turf. That's low by Colonial's turf racing standards.
Colonial's grandstand is also expected to fill with the introduction of the $5 million Grand Slam of Grass that introduces a new major stakes races, the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup June 25, paired with the 8th running of the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT) July 16th.
The Grand Slam, which is for 3-year-olds on the turf, insures a $5 million payout should a horse win the first those of first two Colonial legs of the series as well as the Secretariat Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington Park in August and the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I) against older horses at Belmont Park in October.
"We've been sold out for the major events (Virginia Derby and Colonial Turf Cup) since early in the year," said Mooney. "The response to the Colonial Turf Cup has been good, considering it's a new race."
So good that 4,000 addition seats are being added to Grand Slam Fan Zone, an area formerly known as "The Green." With seating under tents and the return of the infield large screen television, Colonial will be better equipped to handle larger crowd on its marquee racing days.
"It's a big plus for people who want to be outside. They won't have to run inside and look about for televisions to find racing information," added Mooney. "It's a nice addition."
Inside the grandstand, the Turf Club on Colonial's fourth level has been remodeled once again, continuing a trend to gradually improve the décor.