Monthly Archives: March 2018

Catholic Boy Gives Up-And-Comer Jonathan Thomas ‘Monster Opportunity’ In Florida Derby

Jonathan Thomas will step onto Thoroughbred racing’s center stage Saturday when he saddles Catholic Boy for a start in the $1-million Florida Derby (G1). Although the 37-year-old trainer may be regarded by many as a newcomer to the big time, it should be noted that he grew up among the Sport of Kings’ elite.

The son of parents who were career horsemen, Thomas called the Rokeby Farm in Upperville, Va. – owned by the late philanthropist and Thoroughbred owner and breeder Paul Mellon – home throughout his childhood.

“I was very blessed to have a great childhood in regards to horse exposure, horsemen and farms. I guess I didn’t realize the [importance] of where I grew up until I left,” Thomas said. “I knew Mr. Mellon from driving around the farm and picking me up from the bus stop once in a while. He was a super guy.”

Thomas was 13 when homebred Sea Hero captured the 1993 Kentucky Derby (G1) for Mellon, whose homebred Mill Reef won the Derby at Epsom Downs and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in 1971.

“I remember it being a very big deal for everyone who lived there. It was a huge deal. Obviously, it was a lifetime of work getting an American derby winner,” he said. ”I think that completed his trifecta: the English Derby, the Arc de Triomphe and the Kentucky Derby with horses bred and campaigned by him.”

Thomas developed a special connection with horses from a very young age.

“There wasn’t a day that we weren’t helping our parents or engaged in some horse activity,” he said. “Around there, there was a lot of fox hunting and riding, so we grew up riding a lot. My brothers and I got on our ponies, rode all day and came home at night.”

After riding in “backyard races” at 15, Thomas became a professional steeplechase jockey.

“I rode professionally for three years. I was very lucky to win a couple of big races. I was working for Jack Fisher, the leading trainer,” Thomas said. “I had an accident that put me out of commission and forced my retirement. I had to retire at a pretty young age.”

Thomas incurred temporary paralysis due to the injuries sustained in the accident.

“I broke my back. I was paralyzed. I guess it was about a year before I was kind of able to be normal…-ish – like having mobility and being able to walk,” Thomas said. “It came back eventually with a lot of therapy and a lot of luck.”

Catholic Boy trainer Jonathan Thomas is the son of VEA Track Superintendent J.D. Thomas.


Once mobile enough to return to work, Thomas served as an assistant trainer for Fisher at Saratoga before accepting an offer to become an assistant trainer for Christophe Clement.

“I was always enthralled with flat racing and that gave me the opportunity to become involved in that world,” he said.

Thomas worked for Clement for more than four years before spending a year training in Saudi Arabia, only to return to the U.S. to enthusiastically accept an offer to assist trainer Todd Pletcher.

“It was a dream job before, while I was doing it, and after. It was singularly the best move that I’ve ever made in the horse business, going to work for Todd,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be offered that opportunity.”

Thomas spent more than six years working for the multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer who has clinched his 15th consecutive Championship Meet training title at Gulfstream.

“I have respect for everybody in this game, but he is the most well-rounded horseman-slash-trainer-slash person that I’ve ever had the luxury to meet,” Thomas said. “He just excels in every arena. He’s a great family person; he’s a great person to work for; he has tremendous work ethic. Not only is he highly intelligent, but he works so hard.”

Thomas subsequently learned a lot from Pletcher’s father upon moving on.

“I went to work for J.J. Pletcher in Ocala, becoming more involved in the sales and breaking aspects,” he said. “A year later, I had the opportunity to train a few horses.”

Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and John Panagot, Robert La Penta’s racing manager, were Thomas’ earliest supporters, along with trainer Chad Brown.

“Chad Brown was instrumental in getting us started by sending us some horses. I don’t know if we would have gotten off the ground as quick without Chad,” Thomas said. “He was huge in kind of backing me.”

Thomas has steadily built up his business of buying, breaking and training Thoroughbreds at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, where he has 40 horses in training and is overseeing 200 other young horses and layups, many will go to other trainer, while others will remain with him.

“I love the whole business. I think that it’s a cyclical business and each thing communicates with the next,” he said. “When you’re buying a young horse, you’re buying a young horse to ultimately break; you’re breaking a horse to ultimately train; and you’re training a horse to ultimately race in big venue and hopefully get enough residual value to retire as a stallion prospect or broodmare that’s worth a lot of money.”

Catholic Boy has been, by far, Thomas’ biggest success story thus far, becoming a graded-stakes winner on turf and dirt after being identified as a superior athlete, being privately purchased as a short yearling, broken and trained at Bridlewood.

Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables and Siena Farm’s Catholic Boy is rated third at 7-2 in the morning line for Saturday’s Florida Derby, which has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown races.

“It’s a prep, but it’s very important in its own right for a horse, both as a racehorse and a stallion, and for a young trainer it’s a monster opportunity,” Thomas said.

Win or lose Saturday, Thomas will continue to follow his passion for working with horses that he developed while growing up on Paul Mellon’s farm.

“It’s something I always loved. I loved the lifestyle, being outside and being active. For whatever reason, I felt connected to the animal side of things. There was a connection that always agreed with me,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed the business side of what we do now as a mental challenge, but the beauty is that it’s a balancing act and you can do both. Ultimately, the reason I love to do what I do is the interaction with the animals themselves.”

Catholic Boy Geared Up For Saturday’s Florida Derby

The following appeared in Florida Today and was written by Terry Conway. Catholic Boy is in Saturday’s Florida Derby and is one of the favorites. He is trained by Jonathan Thomas, son of the Virginia Equine Alliance’s Track Superintendent J.D. Thomas.   

Being a top assistant to one of the world’s foremost thoroughbred trainers brought a young horseman in daily contact with some of the sport’s biggest stars.

Jonathan Thomas travelled the country executing a master game plan and shared the joy of winning some of the most prestigious races. He learned how to cultivate young horses into top-class runners, including the likes of Uncle Mo, Super Saver and Eskendereya.

On the flip side, assistant trainers are first to arrive at the barn in the dark early morning hours and last to leave after sundown.

They check legs and feet for signs of inflammation, refill feed tubs for missed meals and school young runners at the starting gate. The list of duties goes on and on. And for assistant trainers, anonymity comes with the territory.

Catholic Boy is shown capturing the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes December 2nd at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Coglianese Photography.

The unsung status could change Saturday when Ocala-based Thomas saddles Catholic Boy in the $1 million Florida Derby run at 1 1/8 mile at Gulfstream Park. Sitting on 14 Derby qualifying points, Catholic Boy needs a solid first or second place finish to put him into the starting gates at Churchill Downs on May 5.

A multiple graded stakes winner last year, Catholic Boy has won three of five starts with earnings of $354,000. Thomas is pleased with how his colt is doing entering the biggest test of his career.

“I think he’s progressed well from the last race he ran and his energy level is good,” said Thomas, for six years a pupil of Todd Pletcher, a seven-time Trainer of the Year. “He got a two-turn effort under his belt and we learned how he likes to be ridden. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream on the turf. He summered last year, so it’s a familiar place for him.”

Debbie Easter Op/Ed Piece From March 28th Richmond Times Dispatch

The following appeared on the Opinion page of the March 28th Richmond Times Dispatch. It is titled, “Horse Racing Is Coming Home To Virginia”

Forty-five years ago, one of the greatest achievements in American sports occurred. Secretariat, from Caroline County, won horse racing’s elusive “Triple Crown.” It was an achievement so legendary that the Virginia horse appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and Time magazines. In 1999, when ESPN ranked the top 50 athletes of the 20th century, Secretariat made the list. Virginia’s prize-winning Thoroughbred was the only non-two-legged competitor to appear in the rankings.

Of course, Secretariat was just the latest chapter in Virginia’s storied association with horse racing. Soon after the colonists brought horses to Jamestown in 1609, they were racing them across fields and down country lanes. By the mid-18th century, Thoroughbred racing would grow in popularity, peaking in the 1970s with Secretariat’s race to the record books. Today, Virginia remains a popular venue for steeplechase racing in the spring and fall. For all these reasons, it was beyond heartening to see the overwhelming support for a recent legislative proposal to reopen Colonial Downs, the only flat-track Thoroughbred racing venue in the commonwealth. Lawmakers made it clear they understood the far-reaching implications of returning Thoroughbred racing to the commonwealth — not only for our horse industry, but for our collective history as Virginians.

Their bill, now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, did not come a moment too soon. Virginia’s horsemen now have to travel to Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to race, thereby losing revenue that would have stayed in the commonwealth.

Secretariat is shown winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Photo courtesy of AP.

In 1997, Virginia Thoroughbreds ran more than 2,300 races, a figure that dropped to just 333 by 2014. The fallout has been even worse for breeders. While more than 700 Thoroughbred mares were bred in Virginia in 1997, by 2014 that number had fallen to 43.

What was desperately needed was a means by which to generate the revenue necessary to return serious horse racing to Virginia, starting with the critical step of reopening Colonial Downs. The fact is, racing itself just can’t do it. That’s why horse tracks around the country have embraced other revenue sources to survive. Historical horse racing machines, which will now be allowable per this legislation, have become a popular option nationally.

These machines allow adults to wager on horse races that have already been run, without knowing the outcome or the race prior to participating. Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is currently in the process of spending nearly $60 million on an expansion to install historical horse racing. In Arkansas, historical horse racing machines have been credited with literally saving the state’s horse industry.

It was for all these reasons that the Virginia Horse Racing Industry Strategic Planning Committee, in a report to the Virginia Racing Commission last December, concluded historical horse racing was crucial to getting the Secretariats of tomorrow bred, trained, and racing in Virginia again. In that report, the committee stated: “If historical horse racing is not developed in Virginia, it is doubtful that Virginia’s horse racing industry will ever be competitive with Maryland, Pennsylvania or Delaware; on the contrary, Virginia’s horse racing industry, without historical horse racing, will remain an also-ran.”

Thankfully, the members of the General Assembly heeded this advice, and took swift, bipartisan action to get horse racing back to Virginia, passing legislation with a 75 percent majority in the House and Senate. The work to restore Colonial Downs to its former glory has broad industry support. The plan has been endorsed by the Virginia Racing Commission, and has the backing of my organization, the nonprofit Virginia Equine Alliance, which represents a broad array of groups including the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, the Virginia Harness Horse Association, and the Virginia Gold Cup. These organizations all recognize the Colonial Downs proposal as the key component for bringing back the horse industry in the commonwealth and all the benefits that will come with this restoration, from job creation to tax revenue to economic development.

We look forward to Northam signing this bill as passed by the General Assembly, and to the reopening of Colonial Downs next year. It will mark a welcome return for horse racing fans, but more than that, it will mean the restoration of a tradition and an industry that has long been a defining part of Virginia’s history and economy.

Debbie Easter is president of the Virginia Equine Alliance and executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, and may be contacted at

Equine Transportation Law Presentation To Be Featured At This Weekend’s Virginia Horse Festival at The Meadow

VHC Equine Education Seminar Series Flyer

     In light of all the confusion that surrounds the new regulations in respect to the transportation of horses, a representative from the US DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be giving informational presentations on the new ELD Mandate and CDL requirements during the 2018 Virginia Horse Festival.  The presentations will take place on Friday, March 23 from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. and, again from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m.  Presentations will be offered again on Saturday, March 24 from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.  In addition, Cliff Williamson, Director of Health and Regulatory Affairs for the American Horse Council will join us on Saturday to facilitate the presentations.  These presentations will take place in the northwest corner of the Farm Bureau Center.  Please stop by the Virginia Horse Council booth to confirm the exact location.

     Mr. Williamson will also be making a presentation entitled “Equine Transportation Laws” Saturday afternoon from 3:00 – 3:50 p.m. during the Virginia Horse Council Equine Educational Seminar Series.  The VHC Equine Educational Seminar Series will take place in the classroom located behind the Virginia Horse Council booth.  Please see the attached Equine Educational Seminar Series flyer for more information.


Help Needed To Bring Historic Racing To Virginia & Thoroughbred Racing Back To Colonial Downs

Dear Horseman:

You may have heard a news report in Eastern Virginia about efforts by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to venture into gaming in the state. We are aware of this information and are monitoring developments. Our single focus right now is finalizing the approval of Historic Horse Racing (HHR) legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate. If the Governor signs HB 1609, Colonial Downs will be purchased, and Thoroughbred racing will return to the New Kent facility in 2019. The Virginia Horse Center, Virginia Tech’s Veterinary School, and the Virginia Horse Industry Board will all benefit from monies generated by Historic Horse Racing. Please contact the Governor’s office using our VoterVoice system, asking him to sign HB 1609 with no changes – this is crucial for helping grow Virginia’s horse industry.

Please be sure to pass this message along to any of your friends and colleagues involved with the industry. We thank you for your time and efforts.


Debbie Easter/Jeb Hannum
Virginia Equine Alliance

Saying Virginia Should Be ‘Open Minded’ On Casinos, Virginia’s Governor Signals Support For Plan To Reopen Colonial Downs

The following appeared in the March 13th Richmond Times Dispatch and was written by Graham Moomaw.

As he reviews legislation aimed at reopening the Colonial Downs track with a new way to bet on horse racing, Gov. Ralph Northam says he has no major misgivings with the proposal and thinks Virginia should be “open-minded” to the possibility of casino-style gambling.

“If this is an opening to more casino gambling in Virginia, that’s something we’re going to have to discuss with legislators and communities, et cetera,” Northam told reporters earlier this month. “But the way I see this moving forward is to reopen that track. And I think that’s a good thing for Virginia.”

Legislation to allow historical horse race wagering — a system that uses slots-style machines to let players gamble faster by betting on races that have already happened — passed the usually gambling-averse General Assembly last month.

The new betting machines are a critical component of a potential sale of the shuttered Colonial Downs track in New Kent County. The prospective buyer, Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing, has said the machines would generate an estimated $161.9 million per year, revenue that would support the state’s horse racing industry and help fill government tax coffers.

Northam, who has until April 9 to act on the bill, said he’ll review the proposal and may suggest changes, but he sees nothing so far that would be a deal-breaker. Echoing a popular argument among casino proponents, Northam said Virginia’s aversion to casinos means the state is exporting its gambling dollars to its neighbors.

“There’s a tremendous amount of money in Virginia that’s going across state lines, whether it be in West Virginia or Maryland or Delaware. And I think we’ve got to be open-minded,” Northam said. “Certainly we don’t want to do something that’s regressive to people or is hurtful to people. But if there are individuals who want to do that and are going to other states, I think we should be open-minded in Virginia.”

Anti-gambling groups oppose the bill, arguing that windfall will come out of Virginians’ bank accounts, hurting families who could see a gambling addiction drain their savings.

“We’re incredibly disappointed that the General Assembly would pass a massive gambling expansion that is the equivalent of slots under the guise of saving the horse-racing industry,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia. “This definitely raises the concern that we have now opened the door to casinos.”

The bill passed the House of Delegates 79-21 and cleared the Senate 31-9.

If Northam signs the bill, the Virginia Racing Commission will have 180 days to adopt more detailed regulations for the new terminals.

Mark Hubbard, a McGuireWoods communications consultant representing Revolutionary Racing, said the company is “optimistic” the Northam administration will back the proposal.

“We look forward to working with the Virginia Racing Commission as guidelines are established in the coming months and sharing with the public our plans to re-open Colonial Downs hopefully before the end of the year,” Hubbard said.

The legislation would have an impact beyond the main Colonial Downs facility because it also authorizes the new machines at off-track betting facilities throughout the state.

The proposal calls for 1.25 percent of the revenue from the machines to be set aside for tax purposes, with 0.75 percent going to the state and 0.5 percent going to New Kent. For off-track facilities, the local percentage would be split between New Kent and the county or city where the satellite facility is located.

Colonial Downs, located off Interstate 64 about halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg, shut down indefinitely in 2014 after its current owner — Jeff Jacobs of Colorado-based Jacobs Entertainment — surrendered the track’s license to the racing commission over a dispute with the state’s traditional horsemen’s group.

Since the shutdown, various horse racing groups have joined forces to create the Virginia Equine Alliance, an umbrella organization that identified historical horse race wagering as “critical to securing the long-term success of the horse-racing industry” in a strategy report late last year.

Several other states have allowed historical racing terminals — powered by a video archive of past horse races that hides identifying details about the race and the horses running in it but lets users see the odds — to support their horse racing industries.

But some critics and courts have concluded the machines are little more than dressed-up slot machines with only a tenuous link to pari-mutuel horse race wagering.

The racing commission estimated that each machine could produce $150 per day.
(804) 649-6839

Twitter: @gmoomaw

Virginia Stands Out Among Smaller Statebred Programs

The following piece is great new for Virginia breeding industry. It appeared in The Daily Racing Form March 13th and was written by Joe Nevills.

Virginia’s racing and breeding programs sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one side, the Virginia-bred banner has flown proudly over champion Stellar Wind, who became an Eclipse Award winner on the track and topped last year’s Keeneland November breeding stock sale with a $6 million price tag. On the other, the state has been without a significant live meet since Colonial Downs closed its doors in 2014.

The status of the state’s racing program is uncertain, but interest in Virginia-breds at auction remains strong thanks in part to the Virginia Thoroughbred Association’s ability to adapt to its surroundings.

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Virginia saw the largest actual-dollar increase by average yearling sale price from 2016 to 2017 among all states with 10 or more sold last year. The state spiked by $30,091, with 45 horses bringing an average price of $94,316 last year, improving from 2016 when 55 horses averaged $64,335. That marked a 47 percent increase in average from year to year from 18 percent fewer horses sold.

The average price for a Virginia-bred last year was the highest since 2012, when 80 horses averaged $104,162. It was the fourth-highest average for the state over the past 20 years.

Nationally, the average sale price for a Virginia-bred last year trailed only Kentucky at $96,483 from 3,983 sold.

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Debbie Easter, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, said part of the state’s continued commercial interest is institutional, with some farms that were prominent when Colonial Downs was still in business continuing to breed their quality mares to compete in other states.

Stellar Wind is shown at the 2017 Keeneland November Sale

The other part is the Virginia-bred owners bonus program. With no in-state-option, Virginia expanded its boundaries in 2016 to provide owners of Virginia-breds a 25 percent bonus on purse earnings in non-Virginia-restricted races in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and Maryland.

“I certainly think that has quite a bit of value,” Easter said. “I don’t know that we’re ever going to be able to quantify it, but I know the guys that were selling them last summer told me that when people came to look at those horses, it was definitely something positive they could market.

 “If you break your maiden in New York, you’re going to get another $10,000 on top of your winning purse,” she continued. “That’s not insignificant money, even if you’re up there. The people that know about it really know about it, and it’s a good thing.”

Among the highlights for Virginia-bred yearlings at auction last year was a Scat Daddy filly bred by Audley Farm Equine in Berryville, Va., who sold to White Birch Farm for $600,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.

Of the 12 states that had 10 to 79 yearlings sell at auction in 2017, nine saw an increased average sale price.

Second among the group of smaller states by average price growth was Arkansas, which saw its price jump $20,276 last year to $28,393 from 14 sold.

West Virginia came next, with its 19 yearlings sold averaging $45,121, making for a growth of $9,721.

Other small-market states seeing improved yearling averages in 2017 included Iowa (up $7,198), Indiana (up $7,028), Minnesota (up $6,948), Illinois (up $3,229), Colorado (up $1,621), and Texas (up $660).

Three states finished with lower yearling averages last year, with the biggest drop coming for Ohio-breds.

The average price for an Ohio-bred fell $5,298 from year-to-year, finishing at $19,154 from 69 horses sold after landing at $24,452 from 63 sold in 2016. It was the state’s lowest average yearling price since 2010.

One factor affecting the drop could be the introduction of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association’s fall mixed sale last year.

Revived after over a decade of dormancy, the auction introduced a group of offerings to the commercial market that might have otherwise changed hands privately or been kept to race as homebreds, with many selling at prices lower than one typically sees at the auction outlets in Kentucky. Marketing to a regional buying bench for the first time in a while, a drop in average would be expected, and is not necessarily an indictment on overall buyer interest in Ohio-bred yearlings.

Other small-market states seeing a drop in year-to-year average in 2017 were Arizona (down $1,369) and Washington (down $3,157).

Virginia OTBs Gear Up For “March Madness” & The Kentucky Derby

With four Off Track Betting (OTB) Centers up and running in Virginia, things are really heating up as Kentucky Derby Day approaches on Saturday May 5th. The Richmond OTBs will offer Derby wagering for the second straight year while the OTBs in Chesapeake and Henry County (Collinsville) will offer Derby betting for the first time in five years.

A series of key Derby prep races continues every weekend through April 14th. One million dollar stakes races for three year olds still to come include the Louisiana Derby (March 24th), Florida Derby (March 31st), Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (April 7), Santa Anita Derby (April 7) and Arkansas Derby (April 14). Other key ones include the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (March 17), $800,000 Sunland Derby (March 25) and $750,000 Wood Memorial (April 7) among others.

Kentucky Derby Day is Saturday May 5th at Churchill Downs. Derby betting will be available at all 4 Virginia OTBs.

In the meanwhile, we’ve got events going on at each site horseplayers will want to take advantage of. Beginning March 13th, we’ll have weekly “Poker & Ponies ” Nights at the Breakers Sports Grill OTB in Richmond’s west end every Tuesday. A free Texas Holdem poker tourney will take place from 7-10 PM in the OTB room itself so race fans can enjoy horse races and poker together. Top prize is a $50 betting voucher; second place is a $25 gift certificate to Breakers. Points will be tallied from week to week. Top point getters will be invited to play in tourneys every other month.

Every Wednesday & Thursday this month at both Richmond OTBs, free simulcast programs to some of the most popular tracks will be given away in a “March Madness” promotion. Horseplayers at Breakers will receive free Gulfstream, Tampa, Rosecroft and Charles Town programs every Wednesday while players at Ponies & Pints will receive free Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Santa Anita and Dover Downs programs every Thursday. All four Virginia OTBs are in sports bars, so fans can watch college basketball tournament games and horse racing together.

The Windmill OTB Sports Grill is inside the Dutch Inn in Collinsville. It features 45 TVs that show both sports and horse races.

The newest OTB in Collinsville has its Grand Opening celebration this Saturday, March 17th. Yes, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, so it will be a double celebration of sorts! The Windmill Off Track Betting Sports Grill will feature hourly prize drawings of $25 betting vouchers and $25 gift certificates, food and beverage specials, free simulcast programs and lots more. The OTB is located inside the Dutch Inn Hotel on Virginia Avenue (Rt. 220) just outside the City of Martinsville.

The next free handicapping contest at the Buckets OTB in Chesapeake is Saturday April 7th.

Free handicapping contests have become a big part of the OTB vibe as well. The next ones are slated for Saturday March 24th at the Breakers OTB and Saturday April 7th at the Buckets Bar & Grill OTB in Chesapeake. $500 in cash prizes are given away to the best handicappers at each. More details are at and via that same facebook page. Keep an eye out for a new carryover aspect to these contests beginning in April.


2018 Virginia Horse Racing Betting Handle Is On Upswing

Over $16 million in horse race wagering handle was generated in Virginia over the first two months of 2018. A trio of Off Track Betting (OTB) Centers and four partner account wagering companies combined to produce that figure.

Of the OTBs, the Chesapeake site at Buckets Bar & Grill in the Great Bridge neighborhood handled the most with $1,837,817. The Breakers OTB in Richmond’s west end handled $1,526,503 and the downtown Richmond OTB at Ponies & Pints took in $1,184,786 in bets. The OTB total itself of $4,549,817 exceeded 2017’s  January and February handle tally of $2,952,127. A fourth OTB opened in Collinsville (just outside the City of Martinsville) on March 3rd.

The Windmill OTB features 45 TVs and 10 betting stations. The site handled over $36,000 in its first day March 3rd.

TVG led the way in the account — or on line — betting category, handling $5,680,723 over the two months. TwinSpires was second with $4,016,413 and XpressBet followed with $2,092,735. NYRABets, which just started accepting wagers in Virginia a year ago, accepted $244,747 in bets, but that was up substantially from last year’s $87,650 figure.

The overall handle for 2018 versus 2017 compares quite favorably for the first two months — $16,305,385 versus $14,919,150.

Moving into March and early April, every weekend is filled with key prep races for the May 5th Kentucky Derby. The $1 Million Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby will all be held on Saturdays between March 31st and April 14th.

All four OTBs will host Kentucky Derby parties on May 5th. Ponies & Pints will have the largest and most lucrative Fancy Hat Contest in Richmond along with a large day-long party in their parking lot. Stay tuned to for Derby Day event details at all the OTBs, which will be updated in the coming days and weeks.

Catholic Boy On To The Florida Derby March 31st

Catholic Boy is a 3 year old that is on the 2018 Triple Crown trail. He is trained by Jonathan Thomas, son of Virginia Equine Alliance’s track superintendent, John Dale Thomas.   

Robert LaPenta and Madaket Stables’ GIII Sam F. Davis S. runner-up Catholic Boy (More Than Ready) will make his next start in the Mar. 31 GI Florida Derby, according to LaPenta’s racing manage John Panagot. This story was originally reported by the Daily Racing Form.

Catholic Boy is shown capturing the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes December 2nd at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Coglianese Photography.

“This was our original plan and the horse gave us no reason to call any audibles,” Panagot said. “We felt the spacing from the Sam Davis to the Florida Derby would allow him to recover from his off-the-layoff effort in the Sam Davis. The Davis was a new top for him, we figured the seven weeks would give him every chance to recover from that.”

Catholic Boy made his first three starts on the turf, including a win in Saratoga’s GIII With Anticipation S. He made his first start on dirt a winning one with a decisive score in the GII Remsen S. at Aqueduct Dec. 2, after which Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables bought in. The bay kicked off his sophomore campaign Feb. 10 with a runner-up effort behind Flameaway (Scat Daddy) in the Sam Davis at Tampa.

“We like the fact that the shipping is convenient, given he trains just up the road in Ocala [at Bridlewood Farm],” Panagot said. “We have discussed sending him to Gulfstream nine or 10 days prior to the Florida Derby, so he can situate himself, breeze there and school that week. We’ll let [trainer] Jonathan Thomas finalize those details, he has managed this horse’s training with precision to this point in the horse’s career.”

Panagot added, “The race will be tough, as it should be for a $1 million Grade I. Hopefully Catholic Boy keeps improving for us. He’ll have to as there are a few horses penciled in for the race that seem to be doing just that.”