Colonial Downs, located in New Kent, Virginia, ran its first live thoroughbred racing schedule in five years on Aug. 8. The track’s online gaming options played a role in its return.
Industry insiders Blood Horse reported that the half-million purses are more than double what the venue used to be able to pay out, and racing fans have machines to thank for the influx. According to the Associated Press, Historical Horse Racing Machines (HHR) owned by the Colonial Racecourse Group have provided an influx in revenue that has helped to boost their live action counterparts.
Originally opened in September 1997, Colonial Downs ran live events until it closed in 2014. Now it is once again open for business thanks to a new ownership group that has invested more than $300 million into remodeling the track and its surrounding facilities, according to a report by WAVY, the Norfolk NBC TV affiliate.
Thoroughbred racing will run at the course, which boasts one of the country’s best turf tracks, until September 7. With more than $7.5 million in total purses up for grabs Colonial Downs’ cards have attracted a rush of interest from riders, with more than 100 horses entered for the opening day alone. According to WRIC-TV, the ABC affiliate in Richmond, bettors wagered more than $1 million in the first weekend alone.
"We've had so much outside interest from horsemen all over the country," vice president of racing operations Jill Byrne told Blood Horse. "I was just over in the barn area. We've got vans stacked up coming in from Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, you name it. They're coming from everywhere.”
In June alone, $88 million was wagered at the machines, which look and feel like traditional slot machines but pay out based on historical races that have already been run. The machines were green-lit by the General Assembly in 2018, and now form the foundations upon which the return of live action racing has been built.
According to Richmond.com, the machines are expected to generate $161.9 million in total revenue by 2022, money that looks set to help fuel the revitalization of the live racing industry in Virginia and benefit the entire industry.
“From the horse farm owners to the breeders, from the trainers to the suppliers of feed and horse tack, every facet of our industry is being impacted by the triumphant return of Colonial Downs,” Debbie Easter, Virginia Equine Alliance president, said in a press release issued by Colonial Downs. “This is a wonderful day for all of Virginia, but especially its horse industry.”
Events will be held at Colonial Downs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Sept. 7.