Horse racing is about to make its return to Virginia.
Colonial Downs will hold its first races since 2013 on Thursday, Aug. 8. Colonial Downs will hold 15 race dates this year from Aug. 8-Sept. 7 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Gates open at 4 p.m. and post time for all race days is 5 p.m.
Hundreds of horses are making their way to the track, which opened its barns on July 25. The public is welcome to watch the horses train every morning from 6-10 a.m.
General admission is free and includes apron access with track and paddock-side viewing, covered bench seating and access to the Paddock Bar and Homestretch Hospitality tent.
Colonial Downs, located between Richmond and Williamsburg in eastern Virginia, boasts the widest grass course and the second largest dirt track in North America.
The highlight of the racing season will be on Saturday, August 31 with the return of the Virginia Oaks and Virginia Derby. Flat racing is coming back to its Virginia roots, with an approximate $7.5 million in total purses.
Over the years, the Virginia Derby has been won by Eclipse Awards Champions Kitten’s Joy, English Channel and Gio Ponti. Hall of Fame-trainer Bill Mott and Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans have each saddled three winners of the Virginia Derby.
The first Saturday of the meet, Aug. 10, will feature four stakes races on the turf course for Virginia-bred horses, with each race carrying a $100,000 purse. Those races are: the M. Tyson Gilpin for fillies and mares at 5 ½ furlongs; the Meadow Stable, also at 5 ½ furlongs; the Nellie Mae Cox for fillies and mares at one mile and the Edward P. Evans at one mile on the turf.
The 2019 Colonial Downs meet will close September 7 with six stakes races totaling $550,000. Five of those events are Virginia-bred flat races and one is an open Steeplechase. There will be three races carded at 5 ½ furlongs on the turf: the $100,000 Jamestown for 2-year-olds; the $100,000 Punchline for 3-year-olds and up, and the $100,000 Camptown for fillies and mares. The two route races on the program will be the $100,000 Bert Allen at 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds and up, and the $100,000 Brookemeade for fillies and mares, also at 1 1/8 miles.
The $50,000 Randolph D. Rouse Steeplechase for fillies and mares will be run at 2 ¼ miles over national fences.
Horse racing has deep roots in Virginia
Virginia has a long racing tradition. The first printed account of a Virginia horse race appeared in the Virginia Gazette of Williamsburg on Dec. 14, 1739.
An Englishman, J. D. G. Smyth, who visited Williamsburg in 1773, wrote of horse races. In “A Tour in the United States of America,” published in London in 1787, he reports:
“There are races at Williamsburg twice a year; that is, every Spring and Fall, or Autumn. Adjoining to the town is a very excellent course, for either two, three or four-mile heats. Their purses are generally raised by subscription, and are gained by the horse that wins two four-mile heats out of three; they amount to a hundred pounds each for the first day’s running, and fifty pounds each every day after; the races commonly continuing for a week.
“There are also matches and sweepstakes very often, for considerable sums. Besides these at Williamsburg, there are races established annually, almost at every town and considerable place in Virginia, and frequent matches, on which large sums of money depend; the inhabitants almost to a man being quite devoted to the diversion of horse-racing.”