Colonial Downs Re-opening – Notes from Afar

By Glenn Petty

The historic first race on opening day at Colonial Downs on September 1, 1997 was a $19,000 allowance race won by PA-bred and Tim Keefe trained Macgyver, with Mark Johnson up. The winning owner was Mrs. Rufus Williams, but I know nothing else about her Thoroughbred endeavors.

The winners circle presentation included track owners Arnold Stansley, Jeff Jacobs, then Governor George Allen, CLN CEO Jim Peterson, trainer Keefe and his (unnamed) groom. I know because I have this photo framed in my basement along with the overnight for the day signed by everyone who worked with me in the racing office at that time.

That photo was taken by the late great Jeff Coady who I enjoyed a wonderful working relationship over my years at Colonial.

Charmin Charlie Ray the first time by at CLN August 8 2019. Photo by Coady Photograpy.

Fast forward 22 years to 2019, a six year hiatus and no live racing since 2013, when Alan Bedard trained Charmn Charlie Ray with Mychel Sanchez in the irons won the first race of the grand reopening by a head – a $38,000 claiming event for never won two for three-year-olds and up. A good start to what turned out to me a good day with full fields and exciting races.

Prior to reopening Colonial Downs published “Thoroughbred horse racing is back in Virginia. Colonial Downs, which originally opened on September 1, 1997 and then closed on October 14, 2014, is once again open for business with the newly named Secretariat Turf Course.”

Never mind that that was the old name of the turf course (as noted as far back as 2003 Virginia Racing Commission’s Annual Report), but announcing it again seemed like a smart publicity and marketing move.

Full charts for the opening day Aug 8 click here

Colonial officials were pleased with the results publishing “The “Racing Revival” at Colonial was launched last Thursday with a 10-race card, which produced 93 starters and $1,562,390 wagered on the program. The first week concluded Saturday evening, highlighted by four stakes races for Virginia-breds and $667,000 offered in total purses.”

They also noted that the average field size for the 30 races over the first three days of the 15-day meeting was an impressive 8.7 per race. They also stated that on track attendance was estimated at 9,800 patrons over the three days, including an estimated 4,800 on Saturday. Those numbers after such a long break seem impressive by any standards.

According the Virginia Racing Commission’s Annual Reports, average daily attendance for CLN peaked at an average of 3,620 patrons for the opening 1997 meet, but declined steadily every year after. Daily average attendance was 1,942 in 2013 the final year of live racing. Also, that year Daily on-track wagering was $118,086 which was a severe decline from it’s heyday in 2007 when it reached $164,557 daily.

According to John Marshall, Colonial Downs Executive Vice President, “Considering Colonial’s renewal status, we were pleased with the re-introduction of the meet and are especially proud of the reception shown by Virginians who supported the on-track turnout. This is a great win for Virginia, where racing in this country began back in the 1700s. We anticipate our first week’s response to spur increased interest among fans and horsemen.”

CHARMN-CHARLIE-RAY-080819-CNL-Finish-1-1024x819

Charmn Charlie Ray wins the first race. Photo by Coady Photo.

Over the first three days of live racing there were plenty of familiar names from the old days the likes of leading trainer Ferris Allen III, Doug Fout, Ham Smith, Burt Sipp, Chuck Lawrence, Gary Williams, Patty Burns, Susan Cooney, Curtis “Woodberry” Payne, Jonathon Thomas, Dan Kabiskie, Michael Pino, Jimmy Day, Karen Dennehy Godsey, Diana McClure, Patrick Nuesch, Michelle Sharp, Carla Morgan, Neil Morris and Leanne Hester.

Notable out-of-state conditioners included John Servis, Claude “Shug” McGaughey III, Graham Motion, Jimmy Toner, Jonathon Shephard, Ollie Figgins (a fellow classmate from high school, along with John Dale Thomas), Jack Fisher, Tod Wyatt, Arch Kingsley Jr., Michael Matz and Alan Bedard.

Familiar owners and breeders included PTK, Beverly Steinman, Gary Williams, Frank Batten, Big Lick Stables, Augustin Stable, Stuart S. Janney III, Magalen O. Bryant, Lazy Lane Farm and Irving S. Naylor, Morgan’s Ford Farm, R. Larry Johnson, George Strawbridge, Gillian Gordon-Moore, Lady Olivia Northcliff, Eagle Point Farm, Mr. & Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin III, Warwick Stable, Daybreak Stables and a host of others.

Day One Aug 8: Handle $131,977, OTW $1,430,413. For full charts click here

Day Two Aug 9: Handle $86,331, OTW $951,763, Full charts for August 9 click here

Day three Aug 10: Handle $180,890, OTW $1,005,127, Full charts August 10 click here

On an interesting related side note, handle for Laurel was $1,544.860 on Aug 8, $2,013,169 on Aug 9 and $1,912,925 on Aug 10.

Can’t wait to see what Week 2 brings.

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