|Location||New Kent County, Virginia, USA|
|Owned by||Revolutionary Racing|
|Race type||Thoroughbred, Harness|
|Course type||Flat racing|
|Notable races||Virginia Derby (G2)|
Colonial Downs is a racetrack located in New Kent County, Virginia adjacent to Interstate 64, halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg. The track conducted Thoroughbred flat racing and Standardbred harness racing between 1997 and 2014. It is owned by Revolutionary Racing, which purchased it in 2018 with plans to resume racing.
History and information
The track opened on September 1, 1997. More than 13,000 attended the track on opening day. The track used several unconventional construction and business approaches. They constructed one of the largest tracks in size in the country but built a relatively small clubhouse. They also built OTB's prior to the opening of the track. The track also struck a deal with Maryland to stop Maryland racing during the Colonial Downs thoroughbred meet, although this later ended. The tract of land on which the track is built was obtained through an eminent domain suit brought by the State of Virginia against an African American/Native American family (Tero Johnson) that had owned the majority of the land since 1863.
Until 2005, the track was managed by the Maryland Jockey Club under a complicated agreement with Virginia and Maryland regulators and the Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit. The track was fairly successful and offered good summertime turf racing in the traditionally poor three-year-old turf division. The track ran two legs of the annual Jacobs Investments Grand Slam of Grass. This event consisted of the Colonial Turf Cup and the Virginia Derby from Colonial Downs, the Secretariat Stakes from Arlington Park and the Breeders' Cup Turf.
The track requested 25 thoroughbred dates in 2009, down from 45 in 2008. After negotiations with the track's horsemen and the Commonwealth of Virginia, the track ran 40 thoroughbred dates. The schedule originally ran from June 12 to August 4, 2009, but was later moved up one week. This allowed the track to run live racing on Belmont Stakes day, June 6. The fall harness meet ran 36 dates, from September 8 through November 7. The harness meet was timed to end on Breeders' Cup weekend.
Colonial Downs has not offered thoroughbred racing since 2013, due to a dispute between track management and horsemen's groups. Harness racing ended the following year, and all track-affiliated betting sites were closed in April 2015. The track filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, seeking clarity in recently-amended state horse racing laws, but the case was dismissed in the District Court on November 24, 2015.
In November 2015, Colonial Downs was denied 2016 racing dates by the Virginia Racing Commission. In rendering their decision, commissioners stated that Colonial Downs "displayed callous disregard for the industry" when it surrendered its unlimited racing license in 2014. A spokesman for Jacobs Entertainment said that all options to keep the track open have been exhausted.
In April 2018, Virginia enacted a law to allow historical racing machines (similar to slot machines) at the track and at off-track betting parlors, in an effort to make it economically viable to reopen the track. Weeks later, the track was purchased by Revolutionary Racing, a Chicago-based group of investors and gaming executives, for a price of over $20 million. It will hold its first race since 2013 on August 8th, 2019.
The track has a one and one-quarter mile dirt oval, a seven and one half furlong inner turf oval and a one and one-eighth mile outer turf oval.
Harness races start from a chute on the back stretch of the dirt oval, making for the only one-turn mile in harness racing.
The track featured an autumn harness racing meet. Colonial Downs was the only 1 and 1/4 mile track in North America with harness racing and features a one turn mile. The horses start from a chute on the backstretch. Harness racing times at Colonial Downs were the fastest in racing. On October 11, 2008, the world trotting record was set during the $100,000 Patriot Invitational. It was set by Enough Talk. The trotter became the first in harness racing history to break the 1:50 barrier with 1:49.3.
The following graded stakes were formerly ran at Colonial Downs:
- Grade 2 Colonial Turf Cup (since 2015, run at Laurel Park as the Commonwealth Turf Cup)
- Grade 3 All Along Stakes (since 2015, run at Laurel Park)
- Grade 3 Virginia Oaks (since 2015, run at Laurel Park as the Commonwealth Oaks)
The Grade 2 Stake, Virginia Derby, will return to Colonial Downs on August 31, 2019.
- Hazard, Carol (13 November 2015). "Colonial Downs asks court to clarify law in horse racing standoff". richmond.com. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
- Geiger, Jacob (7 April 2015). "Colonial Downs to lay off 32 remaining employees, shut off-track betting parlors". richmond.com. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2015-11-14.
- Hazard, Carol (17 November 2015). "Racing commission rejects Colonial Downs' application to run Thoroughbred races next year". richmond.com. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
- Martz, Michael (April 9, 2018). "Northam signs legislation aimed at reopening Colonial Downs, ordering 'reasonable limitations on the proliferation of gaming in Virginia'". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
- Moomaw, Graham (April 25, 2018). "Racing group buys Colonial Downs for more than $20 million, promising to revitalize Virginia horse racing". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2018-04-28.