Fun Is a Safe Bet
Posted on February 28th, 2023
If you’re looking for a new way to unwind, 2023 may be the year to acquaint yourself with the workings of the fast-paced sport of horse racing. Colonial Downs — home to some of the nation’s largest racetracks — has a new energy, thanks to bigger purses for bettors and the addition of three prestigious thoroughbred races to its calendar. Here is the latest at the track and a primer on how to place your bets.
The 2023 race season, from July 13 through Sept. 9, will be the New Kent County facility’s first under new owners Churchill Downs Inc., also the owners of the Kentucky Derby. The sale was finalized in November 2022 as part of a $2.75 million purchase that also included six Rosie’s Gaming Emporium locations. First opened in 1997, Colonial Downs closed in 2013 and reopened in 2019 under the ownership of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment.The pandemic put a stop to the races in 2020. When the gates reopened, wagers at the track’s Virginia Derby Day in September were at a record-breaking high.
“Virginia has such a rich history of horse racing that’s in its blood,” says Mark Hubbard, a spokesman for Colonial Downs. “It’s such an exciting sport to watch, and it happens very quickly.”
If you’re new to the sport, enthusiasts enjoy sharing betting methods, and race ambassadors walk novices through the betting process. The first step is to purchase a $3 program with stats on the past performance of horses, jockeys and trainers. You may use this data to guide betting, or you can be less scientific, says Darrell Wood, marketing director at Colonial Downs and a longtime race announcer.
“You can bet your lottery numbers, grandkids’ birthdates, the jockey’s colors,” Wood says. “You can bet the horse that poops right before the starting gates!”
Bettors can wager as little as $2 and win in multiple ways. Novice fans could start by placing either a win, place or show bet. The most straightforward is a win, which is betting on the horse most likely to cross the finish line first. To win a place bet, your horse must finish either first or second. You can win cash on a show bet with a first, second or third place finish. Win bets yield the highest prizes, but place bets offer three chances to get lucky. Though wagers can be more complicated and higher stakes, win, place or show is the best place to start, most experts say. The venue expects to offer more than $600,000 in average daily purses this year.
“It’s fun to have a stake in [a] race, the immediacy of going to the window, placing the bet, going down and seeing the horses close up as they get ready to be placed at the gate and take off,” Hubbard adds. “And then watching the race … and finding out the outcome right then and there.”
This racing season, the track will bring three top races to Virginia: the Grade 1 Arlington Million, the Beverly D. Stakes and the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes. “[The latter,] that’s as big as it gets … on par with the Kentucky Derby,” Wood says.
Secretariat, the namesake of the nationally recognized thoroughbred race event, considered one of the best racehorses of all time, was born in Doswell. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s historic Triple Crown-winning season.
Though betting on races is a thrilling, low-risk hobby for many horse enthusiasts, it can be psychologically damaging and lead to addiction for others. Between 6 and 8 million people in the United States have a compulsive gambling disorder, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. “The increased visibility of and access to legalized gambling will see that number grow larger,” says Cindi M., a member of Gamblers Anonymous. “Simultaneously, the average age of compulsive gamblers is becoming younger as gambling is readily available via smartphone and computer.”
Apart from races, Colonial Downs also operates two restaurants, Rosie’s Kitchen and 1609, and a whiskey bar. Comedians and musicians provide live entertainment. Admission and parking are free. “You can just come and enjoy watching the horses if you want, at a very affordable cost, and have some food,” Hubbard says. “Additionally, there is a lot of entertainment, which is kind of an added value throughout the year.”