Colonial Downs gives thanks for the summer

ON HORSE RACING

Horse Racing

July 14, 2002|By Tom Keyser

NEW KENT, Va. -- John Mooney, CEO of Colonial Downs, watched as patrons streamed into this attractive, colonial-style racetrack yesterday for the Virginia Derby and said that yes, Colonial Downs has found its niche.

"This is definitely when this meet needs to be," he said. "To say the least, I am very pleased with the meet so far."

This is the second year thoroughbreds have raced in the summer at Colonial Downs. After four years of running in the fall, numbers are up in all important areas, Mooney said -- betting on-track, attendance and betting out-of-state on Colonial Downs' races.

Anne Poulson, co-chair of a task force of Virginia and Maryland racing leaders, echoed Mooney. Despite opposition from the heads of Maryland's thoroughbred horsemen's group, Colonial Downs switched to the summer to try to reverse its failing numbers in the fall.

"We're trying to stabilize the situation here," Paulson said. "These two years have been consistent as to showing increases in attendance and handle. This appears to be the niche to maximize those numbers."

According to Mooney, if trends continue through the end of the 26-day meet on July 23, betting on Colonial Downs races will be up 11 percent and attendance up 15 percent over last year.

Through Friday, attendance ranged from a low of 505 on a Monday to yesterday's high of 7,991. On July 4, Colonial Downs drew 6,161. On July 5, a Friday, 4,675 people attended the races, a record for a Friday at the track, Mooney said.

Colonial Downs runs Mondays and Tuesdays because it fills a simulcast niche; attendance is secondary, Mooney said. More significant, he said, has been attendance on the four Saturdays: 3,825 on June 22, 2,827 on June 29, 2,155 on July 6 and 7,991 yesterday.

Despite trying unsuccessfully to card more dirt races last year, Mooney said, it's the turf races that fill and appeal to bettors, especially those from out of state. About 94 percent of races this meet have been on the turf, he said.

More and more trainers from outside the mid-Atlantic region are stabling their horses -- primarily turf horses -- at Colonial Downs. As a result, the involvement of Maryland horses has dropped from about 80 percent the first couple of years (1997 and 1998) to about 50 percent, Mooney said.

One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that the trip from Maryland can be hellish. On Friday, my drive, timed to avoid rush hours, encountered seven separate traffic jams. The 198-mile trip took five hours. It was the worst trip I've had to any track within a few hours' drive of Maryland.

Monkees business

Davy Jones, star of The Monkees, has served as spokesman this summer for Colonial Downs. An enthusiastic owner of horses, he raced here last summer, liked it and agreed to record TV and radio commercials and make public appearances on behalf of the track.

Jones, 58, who owns a farm in Pennsylvania, has been so busy touring as part of "Stars of the Monkees" (himself and Mickey Dolenz being the stars) that he has attended the races only once, and that was Friday.

In the sixth race, one of his three horses at Colonial Downs, 3-year-old gelding Indiantown Jones, finished fifth in his first start. Then, after the races, Jones, Dolenz and their band performed a concert on the track apron.

Loves the fences

The nicely bred Invest West (Private Account-Seattle Way, Seattle Slew) couldn't break his maiden on the flat, but the first time trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered him in a steeplechase race (a stakes, nonetheless), Invest West won.

Yesterday, the 7-year-old horse won his fifth race over fences, overtaking Tres Touche in the final strides for a thrilling victory in the $50,000 David L. "Zeke" Ferguson Memorial Stakes at Colonial Downs.

Ridden patiently by Blythe Miller, Invest West completed the 2 1/4 miles in 4 minutes, 9.75 seconds. He paid $8.60 to win as the 3-1 favorite. After leading most of the way, 7-2 Tres Touche claimed second ($41.80 exacta) and 3-1 P.C. Plod rallied for third ($156.40 trifecta).

Horses to wheels

After Colonial Downs closes July 23, Laurel Park will race July 25 to Aug. 23, Wednesday through Sunday.

Timonium will take over for eight days between Aug. 24 and Sept. 2, and then Pimlico will conduct a Wednesday-through-Saturday meet from Sept. 4 to Oct. 5.

Finally, Laurel Park will take Maryland racing to the end of the year beginning Oct. 8. It will race Tuesday through Saturday.

For three days during Laurel's summer meet, however, Pimlico will be a focus of Baltimore. The second leg of the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary Open Road Tour will be held Aug. 16-18 at the city track. It is expected to draw 50,000 people each day.

The Harley-Davidson event will feature motorcycle exhibits and displays as well as a stellar lineup of musical acts. Among the scheduled performers in the Pimlico infield are Bob Dylan, Hootie and the Blowfish, Billy Idol, Alison Krauss and Union Station, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Neville Brothers, Ted Nugent, Southside Johnny and the Wailers.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we are really excited to have it come to Baltimore and showcase Pimlico," said Joe De Francis, CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club.

The MJC has offered to move -- at its expense -- any horses from Pimlico to Timonium for the three days if trainers are concerned about the noise and commotion bothering their horses.

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