From a Colonial Downs release
Seeking to elevate Virginia thoroughbred racing to the highest levels nationally, Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart announced today that the track’s focus for the future will be to build a nationally recognized, quality boutique Thoroughbred meet. “Colonial Downs is recognized as having one of the finest turf courses in North America. We are now going to implement our vision of creating one of the highest caliber Thoroughbred race meets in the country,” said Stewart.
Colonial Downs will host a six-day Virginia Derby Festival every September with purses averaging over $500,000 a day. Sponsored by Jacobs Investments, the Grade II Virginia Derby will return to national broadcast television. “These purses, combined with national exposure, will allow us to build a universally recognized brand where Colonial Downs becomes a much anticipated destination on the national calendar for quality Thoroughbred racing,” stated Stewart.
Colonial Downs will move from a race meet averaging purses of $200,000 a day over multiple summer weeks to an annual fall turf festival offering some of the largest daily Thoroughbred purses in the country. Reinforcing Colonial Downs’ commitment to the Virginia thoroughbred industry, the annual racing schedule also will include additional days of Thoroughbred racing earlier in the year written with conditions attractive to Virginia thoroughbred horsemen.
“Unfortunately, this bold paradigm change to high-quality Thoroughbred racing in Virginia is not shared by the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA),” Stewart observed. Colonial Downs has proposed these plans over the course of the last six months, but they have been rejected by the Virginia HBPA. The Virginia HBPA’s refusal to extend the Thoroughbred horsemen’s agreement caused the Thoroughbred simulcast signal to be turned off in Colonial Downs’ OTBs. Stewart noted that the consequences of the Virginia HBPA’s unilateral decision have caused significant harm to Virginia Thoroughbred racing, including owners, breeders, Colonial Downs, its customers and employees. (Colonial Downs’ most recent communication to the Virginia HBPA terminating contract negotiations is located on Colonial Downs’ website and outlines future plans for Virginia Thoroughbred racing.)
Mr. Jeffrey P. Jacobs, the owner of Colonial Downs, has desired for the 17 years he has owned the track to advance Virginia Thoroughbred racing to the top tier of racing nationally. “Virginia’s pledge in its Racing Act is to ‘maintain horse racing of the highest quality.’ We are not achieving that goal,” said Jacobs. Spreading racing out over eight to ten weeks with daily purses that are no longer competitive has resulted in a steady decline in the quality of racing, significantly lower foal production in Virginia, and an unsustainable racing model for all stakeholders. Given the significant history of horse racing in Virginia, the undeniable quality of Colonial Downs’ turf course, and the rapid decline of Thoroughbred breeding and racing in Virginia, Jacobs is convinced that now is the time to change the paradigm of Virginia Thoroughbred racing. He stated, “We want to be part of the success story of Thoroughbred racing and find our niche in the national racing scene. We recognize that creating a new direction in Virginia Thoroughbred racing without a horsemen’s contract and without the ability to send and receive a racing signal is an uphill battle, but is a battle worth fighting. The end result will be long-term, high-quality racing of which all Virginians will be proud.”
Colonial Downs is in the process of identifying a group of horsemen who share this vision for Thoroughbred racing in Virginia and who want to implement this paradigm by entering into a new horsemen’s agreement with Colonial Downs. In light of the damage done to Virginia racing by the Virginia HBPA’s unilateral actions, Colonial Downs realizes that, unfortunately, there may be no Thoroughbred racing in Virginia this year. “There may be no thoroughbred racing in Virginia for several years. Nevertheless, I bet you even money that when Colonial Downs brings thoroughbred racing back to Virginia, it will be the beginning of a new era of stability, growth, and pride. On the turf, the great Thoroughbreds often come from behind to win. That is exactly what Colonial Downs will do,” concluded Jeff Jacobs.