Colonial Downs showcases its distinctive turf course this weekend with four competitive stakes races, including its signature event, the $200,000 Virginia Derby.
More than 8,000 patrons jammed the colonial-style track in southern Virginia last year on Derby day, and officials expect about that many tomorrow when the second edition of the race takes place. Colonial Downs is situated off Interstate 64, halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg.
The Maryland Jockey Club took over management of the fledgling track and its four OTBs this summer after financial losses the first two years nearly forced their closure. Stakes were cut to save money, the result being that this weekend offers the first significant racing since the thoroughbred meeting commenced Sept. 6.
Today, a top-notch field of jumpers competes in the $50,000 David L. "Zeke" Ferguson Memorial Stakes, a Grade II steeplechase race of 2 1/4 miles.
Tomorrow, a full field of 14 is slated for the Virginia Derby, a 1 1/4-mile stakes on turf for 3-year-olds, and 10 are entered in the $75,000 Chenery Stakes, a one-mile test on turf for 2-year-olds. The stakes weekend concludes Sunday with the $75,000 Tippett Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on turf.
The Virginia Derby attracted horses from Canada to Florida to Kentucky. The likely favorite will be Phi Beta Doc, a bay gelding trained by Robert Leonard at Fair Hill in northern Maryland.
Leonard said yesterday that he intends to run the horse, even though he raced five days ago at Belmont Park. In that race, the Lawrence Realization Handicap, Phi Beta Doc was favored but broke far too eagerly, expending energy well before the finish of the 1 1/2-mile race. He finished fourth.
"I just probably got carried away training him," said Leonard, describing the tranquil hills up which the horse gallops at Fair Hill. "I'm hoping he'll be a little more relaxed this time around."
Phi Beta Doc is the only graded-stakes winner in the field. On Sept. 1, he captured the Grade III Saranac Handicap at Saratoga with a more-typical leisurely break and strong late drive, beating Monarch's Maze by 2 1/4 lengths.
Monarch's Maze is entered in the Virginia Derby, but his trainer, Patrick J. Kelly, said yesterday from Belmont that the colt is only 50-50 to start.
Kelly said that he wasn't expecting so many horses in the field and that he wasn't pleased with his horse's draw of the inside post position.
Whether Monarch's Maze competes or not, the field typifies those at Colonial Downs so far this fall: Large and competitive, a gambler's best friend.
"It's just a terrific betting race as far as I can see," said Lenny Hale, the track's racing secretary. "I don't know if you can really throw anybody out. All the trainers think they've got a shot."
Pub Date: 10/01/99