Steeplechase racing, a longtime Virginia tradition, will be a regular feature at Colonial Downs when the New Kent County track presents its inaugural meet under new ownership and management this summer, the National Steeplechase Association and Colonial Downs Group announced.
The remodeled and reinvigorated Colonial Downs will open its 15-date meet on Thursday, Aug. 8, and will race on a three-day-a-week schedule through Saturday, Sept. 7. Racing will be on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays with the exception of Labor Day week, when the schedule will be Monday (Labor Day), Friday, and Saturday.
Post time will be 5 p.m. each day with the exception of Labor Day on Sept. 2, which will have a 1 p.m. first post.
Steeplechase racing will be featured during each racing week. While subject to change, current plans call for two jump races each Saturday of the meet.
“The National Steeplechase Association Board of Directors and I are delighted to be a part of the inaugural meet of the new Colonial Downs,” said NSA President Guy J. Torsilieri. “We have a very large constituency in Virginia, and there’s great enthusiasm in the jump-racing community for returning to a tremendous facility.”
“Colonial Downs welcomes the return of steeplechase racing to the Secretariat Turf Course, a 1 1/8-mile circuit that is—at 180 feet—the widest in North America,” said Jill Byrne, Colonial’s vice president of racing operations. “Jump racing has such a deep history in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region, so we are thrilled to host a time-honored tradition as racing returns to the Commonwealth.”
Jill has deep roots in both Virginia Thoroughbred racing and in steeplechasing. Her father, Peter Howe, trained Soothsayer, the Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase horse in 1972, and 1976 champion older female Proud Delta, both for Marion duPont Scott’s Montpelier.
Jill worked as an assistant trainer for her father as well as top trainers Scotty Schulhofer, John Veitch, and Patrick Byrne before going into broadcasting and eventually leadership positions at Churchill Downs and Breeders’ Cup Ltd. She assumed her current position in February.
Colonial Downs had been a regular stop on the steeplechase circuit, both during its pari-mutuel meet and the Dogwood Classic jumps meet. The track opened in 1997 and held its first steeplechase races the following year. Jump racing was featured through the 2013 pari-mutuel meet and at the Dogwood Classic in 2014.
“I have no doubt that our horsemen will welcome a return to racing at Colonial Downs,” said Bill Gallo Jr., the NSA’s director of racing. “It’s a marvelous turf course, and we will provide competitive jump races for Colonial’s on-track and simulcast fans.”
Gallo will consult with Ms. Byrne and Allison De Luca, Colonial’s new racing secretary, on developing a jump-racing program for the five-week meet.
The 2014 Dogwood Classic races were the final ones to be run on the Secretariat Turf Course, which now is being groomed for Opening Day on Aug. 8. In the interim years, pari-mutuel Thoroughbred racing in Virginia was kept alive by steeplechase meets, the Virginia Gold Cup in the spring and the International Gold Cup in the fall.
With the assistance of the Virginia Equine Alliance and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, those two meets in The Plains offered a program of flat races to complement its usual jumps lineup.