The first million-dollar program in Virginia thoroughbred racing history highlights the 2004 meeting at Colonial Downs, the track in New Kent, about 25 miles east of Richmond, which opens for seven weeks today.
Three stakes events on the state-of-the-art Secretariat Turf Course, including the Grade III, $500,000 Virginia Million, highlight the card on July 10.
Co-featured will be the Grade III, $200,000 All Along Breeders' Cup and the $200,000 Virginia Oaks, a new event at 1 1/8 miles that is restricted to 3-year-old fillies.
"We're very excited. This is a new day for Virginia racing," said general manager John Mooney.
A shift from an autumn meeting to summer dates proved to be the correct formula for Colonial, which struggled financially during its early years but, Mooney said, "has seen serious increases in attendance and handle since we went to the summer" in 2002.
"An additional parlor [for off-track betting] has generated more purse money," Mooney said, "and now we're getting more high-quality horses."
Colonial's live racing dates have risen by four to 34, and daily purses will average $200,000. The track has doubled the number of races on dirt, with four per program expected this season. Previously, about 90 percent of the cards were on grass.
"We have an overflowing barn area and people on a waiting list for stalls," Mooney said. "There has been a big influx of horses coming from Florida."
Overseen by the Maryland Jockey Club, Colonial Downs will operate through July 26 on a Friday-through-Tuesday schedule. Post times are 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays; and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.