Colonial Downs
Off at Colonial Downs. Photo by Darrell Wood.

Following the opening of the barn area earlier this week, anticipation is running high for the 2021 race meeting at Colonial Downs, exemplified by the widespread participation of horsemen across the Middle Atlantic, Northeast, and Midwestern regions; and attracted by a strong average daily purse structure of $500,000 per day. 

For its 21-day meeting beginning Monday, July 19  with all races televised on TVG  some of the nation’s top stakes-winning trainers are scheduled to participate, including Ferris Allen, Bret Calhoun, Ignacio Correas, John Kimmel, Michelle Lovell, Graham Motion, John Ortiz, Dale Romans, Dallas Stewart, Mike Stidham, Michael Trombetta and Brendan Walsh.

“It’s extremely gratifying to witness the overall enthusiasm and interest from these top trainers for this year’s meeting,” said Jill Byrne, Colonial Downs Vice President of Racing Operations. “We are proud to further our goal of maintaining a first-class racing and a stabling program, and to ensure that the highest standards of safety and integrity are administered for our horsemen and fans.”   

“We have a great mixture of horses and outfits from all over,” added Racing Secretary Allison DeLuca. “We have a lot of Kentucky people and some from Florida. I think the competition might be tougher. I’m hoping we’ll run more dirt races this year. Some people get it in their head there’s only turf here, so I hope we can get some more dirt participation.”  

Dallas Stewart has nominated 5-year-old Chess Chief for the $100,000 Bert Allen Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race over the Secretariat turf course for Virginia bred/Virginia restricted runners on the opening day program. Owned by the Estate of James Coleman Jr., Chess Chief, a Virginia-bred son of Into Mischief, won the New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds in March, and finished fifth in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) last time out at Churchill Downs.  

“The plan for Chess Chief is to use the Bert Allen Stakes as a prep for the Pacific Classic,” said Stewart, “But plans can also change based on how the horse performs.” 

Stewart, who will be based at Colonial for the first time, plans to have 20 horses in the Colonial backstretch by opening day and five are on the grounds already. Among his contingent is the 3-year-old Macho Uno colt, Shadow Matter, who he plans to run in the Housebuster Overnight Handicap July 20.   

“We’re excited about the meet,” he said. Jill Byrne [Colonial Downs’ Vice President of Racing Operations] recruited us and some other stables from Churchill Downs since their backstretch is closing for the summer. The racing is going to be good. We have a race in mind for every horse coming to Virginia, so we look forward to having a solid meet.” 

Also nominated for the Bert Allen Stakes is the Romans-trained Attachment Rate, third in Keeneland’s Commonwealth Stakes (G3), and Virginia-sired Mr. Buff, a winner of 11 stakes in New York and more than $1.3 million for trainer John Kimmel.   

Mike Stidham, leading trainer at Colonial’s 2019 and abbreviated 2020 meet, plans to have between eight and 10 horses rotating in and out of his barn including David Ross’s Palio, who scored a maiden special weight win at New Kent last summer. Palio also is nominated to the Bert Allen Stakes. Ross, who races under the stable name DAARS, Inc., is the all-time leading owner at Colonial Downs.    

“I train for David, and he likes to focus on the Colonial meet and race as many of his horses as he can during that time,” said Stidham, who had a Grade I win earlier this year with Mystic Guide in the Dubai World Cup. “The meet here is always fun.” 

Colonial’s all-time leading trainer Ferris Allen, a Varina, Virginia native, returns with 30 stalls. “I always target the Colonial meet,” he said. “The level of competition is going to better than it ever has. Nobody knows the lay of the land here as well as me, so hopefully that will be a help to us.” 

“We built a loyal following of owners and handled their horses at Colonial over the years,” said Allen. “But after being closed for six years, those folks weren’t at the doorstep waiting for you when Colonial reopened in 2019. People had to move on so that first year back was like re-establishing a network. Last year, we planned to take a step forward, but the pandemic prevented that. So this year is almost like year one again in re-establishing that base.”    

The highlight of the stakes calendar will be the $250,000 New Kent County Virginia Derby (G3) for 3-year-olds and the $150,000 Virginia Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, both at 1 1/8-miles on Aug. 31.   

In addition to the minimum daily $500,000 purse structure, there will be added incentives for horsemen at Colonial, including: 

  • All owners who start a horse at Colonial Downs will receive the greater of $1,000 or their share of the purse money from the race. 
  • All trainers will receive $300 per horse started. 
  • Colonial Downs will offer free horse transportation originating from Fair Hill Training Center.  

Colonial Downs is pleased to extend a $15 donation per starter to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), which will be matched by the VHBPA.   

“It is our privilege to present a race meet of this caliber symbolizing the long-term potential for horse racing in Virginia,” said John Marshall, Executive Vice President, Operations, Colonial Downs Group. “Fans on-track can expect a high level of service and quality despite economic challenges raised following the pandemic.  Fans on-line and off-site can expect the highest level of wagering quality during our early week and early day time period.  We have all long awaited this day and are thrilled it has finally arrived at full capacity.” 

The Colonial Downs meet will continue through September 1 with racing every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 1:45 PM.