Cashing Tickets at Colonial Downs: Tips and Trends for Betting the 2023 Season
Posted on July 10th, 2023
Ther following appeared at americasbestracing.net on July 8th and was written by Noel Michaels.
Live Thoroughbred racing is enjoying a resurgence in Virginia and Colonial Downs is leading the way. The track is set to host what will be its biggest and best season of live racing in its history when its gates open on July 13, 2023 for a nine-week meet that will last until Sept. 9.
Colonial Downs is located in New Kent County, Va., along I-64 in between Richmond and Williamsburg. Almost all the visitors to the area arrive via Richmond, which is home to the area’s major airport and is only half an hour away. The track opened in 1997 and raced Thoroughbred dates until 2013. After a six-year hiatus, the track reopened in 2019 after historical horse racing (HHR) machines were legalized in Virginia. The track was bought by Churchill Downs Inc. in 2022 and now is ready to host its most anticipated live race meet in years this summer.
Getting to Know Colonial Downs
Live racing at Colonial Downs will be contested every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday throughout the season, and all races at the 2023 meet will be telecast on FanDuel TV or FanDuel Racing. Colonial Downs is home to North America’s only 1 ¼-mile circumference main dirt track, making it the second largest configuration in the country. But let’s face it, Colonial Downs is synonymous with turf racing, which is contested on a 7 ½-furlong inner track and the outer 1 1/8-mile Secretariat turf course. Over 80% of the races at the 27-day 2023 Colonial Downs meet are expected to be contested on the grass.
Major Race Dates
The Colonial Downs season will host 25 stakes races including four graded stakes offering a total of $5.375 million in purses. Twenty-two of the 25 stakes will be run on the grass. The track’s signature race is the Grade 3 New Kent County Virginia Derby, which will headline a six-stakes closing day on Sept. 9. The purse of the Virginial Derby has been raised this year to $500,000. The corresponding race for 3-year-old fillies, the Virginia Oaks has had its purse raised from $50,000 to $250,000 for 2023.
The big news on the Colonial Downs stakes schedule, however, will be a trio of high-profile graded stakes that will be run at Colonial Downs for the first time in 2023. The Arlington Million, the Beverly D. Stakes, and the Secretariat Stakes – formerly run at Arlington International – will all be run at Colonial Downs this year and are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 12. The $500,000, Grade 1 Beverly D. will be a part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and will be a “Win and You’re In” race for the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
Colonial Downs is known for its turf racing and the majority of the races at the meet are run on the grass, with generally only about 1-2 dirt races carded on any given day. Turf sprints are run at 5 ½ furlongs on the outer turf course, while the vast majority of the grass route races are run on the inner turf. The Colonial Downs grass courses are wide and fair and there is very little preference in terms of post positions on either turf course going either long or short.
Handicappers should be aware of the track trends in terms of preferred running styles, based on the results from the corresponding meet run at Colonial Downs in 2022. In Colonial Downs turf sprints, 61 of 72 races run at 5 ½ furlongs were won by horses that raced within four lengths of the early lead. Speed horses had the advantage with horses racing on or close to the pace winning 33 of the 72 turf sprints for 46%. Stalkers racing between 1 ½ and four lengths off the early pace won 28 of 72 for 39% wins. That means closers won only 15% of the turf sprints in 2022.
Turf routes on the other hand tend to play completely the opposite at Colonial Downs with closers holding the advantage. Almost all of Colonial’s 108 inner turf routes were run at either one mile or 1 1/16 miles and closers excelled at both distances. Closers racing at least four lengths off the early pace won 46 of the 108 inner turf routes for a win percentage of 43%, including 45% at one mile. Only 10 turf routes were run on the outer turf and those races appeared to be fair to all.
On the Colonial Downs main track, there were only 11 dirt route races run in 2022. Sprints are much more prevalent on the main track, but Colonial ran only 42 dirt sprints in 2022. Early speed horses enjoyed a huge edge in dirt sprints, with 64% of the winners racing on or close to the pace. Stalkers won most of the other races and closers racing more than four lengths off the early pace won just five of the 42 races for 12%.
Jockeys and Trainers to Watch
Purses are good, so Colonial Downs attracts a lot of good horsemen to compete at its nine-week summer meet.
The defending leading rider at Colonial Downs from the 2022 meet is Jevian Toledo, who led all jockeys with 25 wins from his 137 mounts for an 18% win rate. Colonial’s 2021 leading rider Horacio Karamanos tied for second in the standings with 18 wins (16%) along with Leonel Reyes (15%). Other jockeys expected to vie for spots in the top in the standings include Joe Rocco Jr., (13 wins in 2022 to go along with 20 wins in 2021), Samy Camacho (14 wins in 2022), Yan Aviles (17 wins in 2022), Victor Carrasco (13 wins in 2022), and Feargal Lynch (11 wins in 2022). Jareth Loveberry will also figure prominently into the mix when he is able to return from his recent injury. Notably, Irad Ortiz Jr. rode 18 mostly high-profile races at Colonial Downs in 2022 and won 10 of them for a 56% win percentage, so respect his mounts when he visits the Virginia track.
In the trainer ranks, the leading trainer at the 2022 Colonial Downs meet was Michael Stidham who won 13 races from 61 starters for 21%. He edged Michael Trombetta who won 11 races from 51 starters for 22%. A couple of former Arlington stalwarts, Larry Rivelli and Chris Block, are expected to call Colonial Downs home for nine weeks. Rivelli won nine races at the 2022 meet and Block won seven. A wide assortment of nationally prominent trainers are expected to have several starters at Colonial Downs this season led by Steve Asmussen, who won eight races at the 2022 meet. Others to watch include Todd Pletcher, Graham Motion, and Shug McGaughey, who each won three races at Colonial Downs in 2022.
Some other trainers that horseplayers should be keenly aware of based on their 2022 results at Colonial Downs include Mike Maker, who won 5 of his 9 starts in 2022, Robert Falcone who won five races from six starters, and Mary Lightner, who won with four of her six starters at last year’s meet.