I lived in the mid-Atlantic for seven years, and I logged more hours than I care to remember on I-95, making my way home to friends and family in New York and Saratoga. When I left the area in 1995, I vowed I’d never again live anywhere that required regular travel on 95.
I was reminded of those words last Saturday morning, as I sat, motionless, on the dreaded road south of D.C. Were all of these people really going to the Colonial Turf Cup? Was the nearly 100-degree weather driving them all south and east to the beach? Was there a big sale somewhere?
Having left home shortly after 6 am, I was confident that I’d make the 12:55 post time at Colonial Downs. Instead, after bobbing and weaving unsuccessfully through several non-95 detours, I arrived just in time for the sixth race. Fortunately, that was only the halfway point of the card.
When I lived in southeast Virginia, only thirty minutes from where Colonial Downs is located, pari-mutuel betting in the Commonwealth was illegal. But sometime in the early to mid 1990’s, the good souls of Virginia decided that a new racetrack in a fairly desolate area just east of Richmond would be a great idea, and in 1997, Colonial Downs opened.
Having spent two years in Williamsburg, I know that Virginians don’t mess around when it comes to Colonial architecture; nonetheless, accustomed to a certain genre of racetrack design, I was surprised to be greeted by buildings infused with 18th century style when I arrived on Saturday morning afternoon.
The racetrack is set, curiously, in the middle of a number of housing developments, and the grandstand fits right in; it could be one of the thousands of Georgian and Federal-style homes that cover the landscape in southeast Virginia.
Saturday was Colonial Turf Cup Day, the second biggest day on the racing calendar, behind Virginia Derby day. These two races make up the Grand Slam of Grass, along with the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington and the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Grade II Colonial Turf Cup, worth $500,000 had attracted two Kentucky Derby starters, Dean’s Kitten and Paddy O’Prado, both of whom raced at Saratoga on the grass last summer, and both of whom had seemed destined for a career on the turf until Derby Dreams re-routed them to the dirt.
Saturday was also the Rhythm, Bets, and Brews festival; in a tent at the top of the stretch, a band performed throughout the day, while representatives of various breweries set up shop to offer tastes of their wares. $10 got you a small glass and tickets for five fill-ups; my favorites were an ale from Williamsburg Alewerks (note: do those labels remind you of any other Colonial-type brew? How do they get away with it?) and the Magic Hat Wacko.
Known for its turf racing, Colonial has two grass courses and had carded 12 races on them last Saturday; I felt right at home as Linda Rice took the Buckland Stakes with Lady Rizzi, at five and a half furlongs on the outer turf course. H. Graham Motion’s Shared Account won the Grade III All Along Stakes
Among the other familiar New York faces in Virginia for the day were Kent Desormeaux, Cornelio Velasquez, Edgar Prado, and Alan Garcia, and the trip south for the day was worth it for Desormeaux (I’ll bet HE didn’t sit in traffic for four hours), who won the feature aboard Paddy O’Prado. The son of El Prado notched his second career victory, winning by three lengths.
The announced crowd was 3,428, smaller than I’d have guessed, but it was an enthusiastic group. I stayed on the apron with friends and didn’t venture to the upper levels of the grandstand, but the ground level offered good views of the track from the sloped apron; plenty of betting windows; and food and drink nearby.
I’d planned and aborted trips to Colonial for the last two summers, and while this foray was a little more arduous than I’d hoped, it was worth it. Summer tracks often have a vacation feel to them; Colonial is no different, and the management seems dedicated to making sure that the patrons have a good time.
The track slogan is “Win Money, Have Fun” (the “u” in “Fun” is a horseshoe); though I was only 50% successful, it was enough to ensure that Colonial is on my list of tracks to which I’d like to return. But next time….I’m leaving the day before, and I’m not driving down 95.
An aside: this site is clearly still going through growing pains as I continue to play with the design. Apologies for the current small print–stay tuned for further changes!