Dismal opening dims outlook for Colonial Handle down 30 percent, attendance off 50 percent

September 14, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- The on-track numbers from the first week of racing at Colonial Downs are dismal.

"Certainly, it has been a disappointing week for attendance and handle," said John Mooney, Maryland Jockey Club's chief operations officer who is assisting Colonial management. "But the week after Labor Day is probably the most difficult for racing anywhere in the country."

Through yesterday, Virginia's first thoroughbred track showed decreases of 30 percent in the handle and 50 percent in attendance from last year's inaugural meeting.

Mooney said many factors probably are involved, including a late Labor Day this year, NASCAR's Exide 400 in Richmond over the weekend and a promotion budget focused more on the entire meeting than 1997's, which heavily concentrated on the opening.

"The budget is more balanced with a lot of the emphasis on the Virginia Derby," Mooney said. "This year, it's going to take a little bit of time to get some momentum up."

A fluctuating schedule, with starts at night on weekdays, at twilight Monday and afternoons on weekends, may be confusing to the betting public.

"There is a question whether night racing works in a pretty remote area like this," said Mooney. "I know that these numbers have to improve to substantiate the purse structure."

Steeplechase debuts

Colonial Downs showcased pari-mutuel steeplechase racing for the first time yesterday, running two 2 1/4 -mile events over national fences on its state-of-the-art turf.

The track will conduct jump races every Sunday except on Sept. 27, a date which conflicts with the Foxfield meet in nearby Charlottesville.

Highlighting the steeplechase activity at Colonial is the Grade II, $50,000 David L. Ferguson Memorial on Oct. 4. It will serve as a tuneup for the Grade I, $150,000 Breeders Cup Grand National -- the richest race on the circuit -- two weeks later in Far Hills, N.J.

Entering the fall schedule, defending champion Tom Voss of Monkton again paced the National Steeplechase Association trainer standings with 13 victories and $345,125 in purse money won.

Voss' powerful stable, which includes Teb's Bend, Soaringoverseattle, John's Call and Brigade of Guards, entered the fall with a three-win lead over Sanna Neilson. He had no entries at Colonial yesterday.

Gold Token wins

New York invader Gold Token was supplemented to the $100,000 Polynesian Stakes yesterday and rewarded owner Barry Schwartz with a four-length victory.

In the process, Gold Token beat Testafly, who came back in two weeks after the Iselin Handicap, and Viv, who was trying to stretch to 1 1/16 miles from sprint events.

"There was enough speed in the race, so I knew I had to be pretty patient," rider Frank Lovato said.

Gold Token rallied determinedly while Viv faded and the winner had enough to handle Testafly, who nonetheless took the overall lead in the MATCH standings with four points for finishing second in the race.

Testafly has 23 points in the overall MATCH series, pending the outcome of the Bute incident in New Jersey.

Colonial Downs

1998 meet: Now through Oct. 11

Post times: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. Monday, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Dark: Tuesday and Wednesday

Information: 888-482-8722

Out-of-town simulcasts: For results, scratches, call 410-792-7464.

Pub Date: 9/14/98

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