Mo Margarita was the first horse on the track to train Monday morning. (Colonial Downs)

With the return of live racing to Colonial Downs just two weeks away, trainers from Tampa Bay Downs were amongst the initial conditioners to arrive on the backstretch which recently opened. As a light rain shower passed through the area, the first horses made their way onto the mile and a quarter main track signaling the start of training for the 18-day meet that starts Monday, July 27.  

The first horse onto the track was Mo Margarita from the barn of James Tsirigotis, Jr., who has eight horses here from Tampa. 

“The Tampa horsemen definitely played a big role in the success of our ‘racing revival’ last year and I’m certainly glad to see so many of them return,” said Director of Racing and Racing Secretary Allison DeLuca, who serves in the same role at the Oldsmar, Florida, oval. 

The Sunshine State outfits are topped by last year’s co-leading trainer Mike Stidham, who will again have a string at Colonial this summer. The 62-year-old native of Neptune, New Jersey, won 10 races during the 2019 meet including stakes scores with Embolden in the Jamestown Stakes and with Doc’s Boy in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Kitten’s Joy. He surpassed the 2,000-win mark in November. 

“We enjoyed racing here last year,” Stidham said. “We had a lot of grass horses that we were able to run that we couldn’t get in at other tracks. We won a lot of races. Our horses liked the grass course and the dirt surface was good as well. 

“We’re anxious and looking forward to another good meet,” he continued. “We will have a strong presence at Colonial and plan to run as many as possible this year.” 

In addition to Stidham and Tsirigotis, others trainers who have made the trek from the western peninsula of Florida include Mike Campbell, Francisco Machado, Abdul Williams, James Dimmett, Jonathon Feron, Joseph Minieri, Mauricio Nunez, Derek Ryan, Dennis Ward, John Fennessey, Sarah Nagle, Moises Yanez, and Whitney Vallis to name just a few. 

Among the prominent new trainers to have a Colonial Downs outfit is that of Christophe Clemente. The Paris-born Clemente, who saddled Tonalist to win the 2014 Belmont Stakes (G1), though based in New York this time of year he will have a contingent of eight horses here. Earlier this year, Clemente notched his 2,000th victory. 

Of course, Virginia-bred, -sired or -restricted runners will be featured prominently during the Colonial Downs season with numerous stakes opportunities sprinkled throughout the meet with as many as six such events planned for the opening three programs. 

“Move in day was hectic – we have 100 horses at home; trying to get a batch down here,” said trainer Karen Godsey. “Mom and I were throwing hay the other day trying to get it all done.  We have 11 (horses) here so far, nine or 10 more to come from the farm and some from other tracks. We’ll trickle them in — I’ll bring another couple more every day.  

“It feels great to be back especially after this year that we’ve all had — at one point, didn’t even know we’d be here,” she said. “I hope I have as a good meet as I did last year but don’t know if you can get lucky twice. What the Beep, winner of the 2019 Tyson Gilpin Stakes is back and will compete in the same Virginia-bred stakes this year (Sept. 2).” 

Another Virginia-based trainer David Bourke arrived over the weekend and will have 10 horses here for the meet. “I just brought the first set out to train and the track feels great — it has a really nice cushion on it. It is all manicured and looks A1,” he said. “We fortunately brought a bit better stock with us this year. We have two really nice 2-year-olds. We have something more to look forward to than we did last year. The quality in our stable this year is better.” 

The Colonial Downs season begins Monday, July 27, with racing conducted three days a week – Monday through Wednesday – with a first post of 5:30 p.m. EDT with provisions for a limited number of spectators in attendance for the 18-day schedule. 

Under conditions established in Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening plan, which allows for outdoor venues to cap attendance at 1,000 spectators, Colonial Downs will plan the following protocols for the nightly meeting: 

·        Up to 1000 spectators will be admitted to the outdoor areas of the grandstand and the track apron.  

·        All guests will receive temperature checks upon arrival at the facility and a 6-foot social distancing policy will be enforced. 

·        Guests are required to wear masks indoors and encouraged outdoors.