Spring weather appears to be settling in at last, and that means Virginia equine enthusiasts can begin gearing up for a slate of steeplechase and point-to-point racing events that dot the Commonwealth’s landscape each year. The 2019 summer racing scene will be even more enticing since Colonial Downs, the state’s only pari-mutuel thoroughbred racetrack, is back in business and will reopen after a six year hiatus. And pari-mutuel harness racing will return for a fourth straight year at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock this fall.
The Point-to-Point season of spring races kicks off March 16th with the Warrenton Hunt, and action will continue every weekend thru the April 28th Middleburg Hunt. A complete list of meets can be found at www.centralentryoffice.com. This year, the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) is funding a new starter reward program called “Points to Points Pay”. Any horse that starts in a flat, hurdle or timber race which is owned by a Virginian or trained by a Virginian will receive $200 per start. It’s an effort to increase participation and build field size at these events.
“The VEA recognizes that the Point to Point circuits are a vital element of steeplechase racing and we want to do everything we can to promote and support the Point to Points in Virginia,” said VEA Executive Director Jeb Hannum. “They are an important first step for many horses and they give young riders an opportunity before going to the sanctioned meets. We hope the Reward Program will encourage new owners and broader participation this year.”
Highlight of the annual steeplechase calendar is the 94th running of Virginia Gold Cup Races, which is set for Saturday May 4th at Great Meadow in The Plains. The afternoon festivities generally attract 70,000 spectators and feature both a tailgate and hat contest, terrier races and nine horse races — six hurdle/timber events followed by three flat races. Betting is available on all the races including the simulcast of the Kentucky Derby, which finishes out the day. Three spectator areas are available —Members Hill, the North Rail and South Rails areas. General admission and Members Hill admission passes are now on sale at local retailers, at www.vagoldcup.com or by calling 540-347-2612. The 82nd running of the International Gold Cup is scheduled for Saturday October 26th.
Thoroughbred racing will make a highly anticipated return to Colonial Downs in New Kent this summer. The five week, fifteen day meet will begin August 8th and continue thru September 7th with racing scheduled every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5 PM. A special Labor Day program will be held on Monday September 2nd at 1 PM. The country’s top three-year-old turf horses will compete in the 17th running of the Grade 3 Virginia Derby on Saturday August 31st. Colonial Downs, which will open a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium complex at the track in late April, features the widest grass course and second largest dirt oval in the country. The Secretariat Turf Course is 180 feet wide and the dirt track is 1 1/4 miles long, second only to Belmont’s, which is 1 1/2 miles around. Colonial Downs is off I-64 at Exit 214, halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg. More information is at www.colonialdowns.com.
A five week harness racing season will again go to post beginning September 13th at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock. Pacers and trotters will battle over the half mile oval every Friday at 3:30 PM and Saturday at 2:00 PM. Betting is available on all the races. Parking and admission are free and the action is family friendly. The track is located off I-81 at Exit 283, halfway between Winchester and Harrisonburg in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. More details are at www.shenandoahdowns.com.
Stay up to date on the latest news and events at www.virginiahorseracing.com. Better yet, spend a day at one of these events and support these equine athletes and the hard working support staff that operates behind the scenes. Happy Spring!