Racing at Colonial Downs. Photo by Coady Photography.

The star-crossed 2020 Colonial Downs meet had managed to overcome heat, tropical storms and power outages in its first couple of weeks. It couldn’t outlast Covid-19, however.

Colonial Downs has canceled the remainder of its 2020 meet, Colonial’s Executive Vice-President of Operations John Marshall and Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) executive director Frank Petramalo confirmed Friday. The decision came following a meeting of the VHBPA, Colonial Downs, and the state Department of Health.

“The meet is being canceled,” Petramalo said. “We undertook testing after Trevor McCarthy came up positive, and there were some positive cases here. It made sense to cancel the meet.”

“We’re undertaking this out of an abundance of caution for safety and health concerns,” Marshall said.

The decision came just three days after jockey Trevor McCarthy, the leading rider at the meet, tested positive for Covid-19. While McCarthy had only mild symptoms, his positive test prompted the track to cancel its August 11 and August 12 cards and to have numerous other racetrackers to get tested.

Multiple sources have told The Racing Biz that several riders and others tested positive for the highly contagious virus. Additionally, the Department of Health recommended that those who tested negative – but had been exposed to the virus by virtue of their proximity to others who are positive – quarantine for two weeks. That would have put a severe squeeze on a jockey colony already stretched thin by dint of the quarantine requirements in effect at Colonial and at other tracks.

“It would have been impossible [to go forward],” Petramalo said.

Marshall said the decision was “difficult for a number of different reasons.” For one thing, he said the logistics of coordinating among not only racing-related entities – including the HBPA and the state Racing Commission – but also with state and local health officials proved to be “a real daunting task.”

The decision, while necessary, is especially difficult to stomach for those Virginia horsemen whose racing year is built around the meet.

“Devastated,” owner-trainer Karen Dennehy Godsey wrote on Facebook. “For me, my horses and my owners. This sucks. I hate this damn virus.”

Godsey, who also operates Eagle Point Farm in Ashland, VA, had won with one of eight Colonial starters during the meet. But that one had been a good one: What the Beep, a homebred for her, won the $60,000 Camptown Stakes on July 29.

“They’re really bummed out,” Petramalo said of his constituents. “A lot of our Virginians were training their horses for this meet, and now they’ve got no place to go.”

McCarthy had begun to feel ill Saturday night, August 8, his agent Scott Silver said. That led him to take off his scheduled mounts Sunday and Monday. He was unable to get a Covid test until Tuesday morning, by which time, Silver said, McCarthy’s symptoms had abated.

If McCarthy remains symptom-free and gets a negative test, he should be able to return to racing as early as August 20, Silver said, though restrictions on jockey travel – which generally require a quarantine period for a new arrival – could end up pushing his actual return back.

A quick return will not be the case for Colonial Downs, however. The track has been fighting an uphill battle all meet long. Its opening day was canceled because of the heat. It lost additional days to a tropical storm and a power outage.

All told, the track will end up running just six of its scheduled 18 days.

“It’s been one crazy thing after another,” Petramalo said. He said he expected that Virginia horsemen would keep their purse money powder dry until Colonial’s 2021 meet, rather than trying to run races elsewhere, as had been done in years between the closure of the original Colonial Downs following the 2013 meet and the opening of the new Colonial last year.

Marshall characterized the aborted season as “difficult after having such a successful 2019 revival,” when the track returned with record-breaking purses and perhaps a higher national profile than it had previously had.

He said the racing team would begin planning for the 2021 season Monday morning and that that season could well look different both in terms of purse levels – which are expected to rise – and in terms of timing. The track might race on a somewhat different schedule next year.

“I feel like we may have lost the battle in 2020,” Marshall said. “But we’re really determined that we’re going to win the war.”