Monthly Archives: April 2018

Virginia’s Horse Industry Praises Bipartisan Efforts To Reopen Colonial Downs

Virginia’s Horse Industry Praises Bipartisan Efforts to Reopen Colonial Downs

rseVirginia Equine Alliance points to statewide benefits from track’s resurrection

 Richmond, April 27, 2018 – The nonprofit statewide association that represents horse-related businesses throughout the Commonwealth is praising the recently signed legislation that will lead to the reopening of Colonial Downs in 2019. The Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) says that the resurrection of the New Kent County track, closed since 2014, will lead to a revival of Virginia’s horse racing, breeding, training and other commercial and agricultural enterprises involving horses.

“The General Assembly and the governor are to be commended for their support for this important legislation, legislation that not only will restore the long history of horse racing in Virginia but also will revitalize horse-related enterprises throughout the state,” said Jeb Hannum, executive director of the VEA. “Our thanks to Gov. Northam and the bipartisan efforts in both the Senate and House for recognizing the consequential economic impact the new law will have in every corner of Virginia.”

Photo by Laurie Asseo.

The legislation cleared the way for the April 24 purchase of Colonial Downs by Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing. Economic impact studies have estimated that reopening the track will lead to as many as 500 jobs for New Kent County and the region, and by year three, generate as much as $25 million for state and local governments. Proceeds from the track also will fund an incentive program that will brings horse to Virginia to board and train.

“Virginia’s horse racing traditions date to pre-Colonial times, and we are pleased and proud to see that tradition continue,” Hannum said. “But the reopening of Colonial Downs means so much more from a tangible point of view. After almost four years without racing, it now allows us to build an industry that hopefully will enable us to be competitive with the horse industries in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and that will lead to brighter prospects for breeders, trainers and farmers who support the racing industry.”

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About the VEA

The Virginia Equine Alliance is a non-profit, 501 (c) 6 organization comprised of the Virginia Harness Horse Association, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, the Virginia Gold Cup Association, and the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. It works to sustain, promote and expand the horse breeding and horse racing industries in the Commonwealth.


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Virginia’s Colonial Downs Purchase Official; “Our Industry Has Hope Again”.

The following appeared in The Paulick Report April 26th.

Revolutionary Racing, together with partner Peninsula Pacific, today officially closed on the purchase of Colonial Downs, Virginia’s only horoughbred racing venue. The racetrack was purchased from its developer and long-time owner, Jacobs Entertainment, Inc. The purchase price was in excess of $20 million. The facility has been closed since 2014. Today’s purchase marks a major step toward bringing horse racing back to the Commonwealth, and is a direct result of the passage of HB 1609, a bill to allow for historical horse racing in Virginia, by the General Assembly during this past session.  Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on April 9.

Speaking about today’s purchase, Larry Lucas, chairman of Revolutionary Racing, noted: “We are thrilled to take yet another important step forward in the effort to help revitalize Virginia’s longstanding horse industry. This moment would not be possible without the proactive leadership shown by the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam. A vibrant and successful Colonial Downs is critical to ensuring that horse racing can thrive and grow in the Commonwealth. Horse racing can be traced to the earliest years of the Colony of Virginia. And every Virginian takes great pride in this being the birthplace of Secretariat, the most famous horse to ever take the track. Now with this purchase we are well on our way to bringing back this historic industry.”

Prentice Salter, CEO of Revolutionary Racing, commented: “The return of horse racing to Virginia will mean the creation of new, good-paying jobs, the generation of much needed tax revenue for the state and localities, and a significant economic impact statewide. In a race, only one horse can come in first; but with the reopening of Colonial Downs, the entire Commonwealth will win.”

Colonial Downs last raced in 2014.

M Brent Stevens, chairman of Peninsula Pacific, remarked: “We are honored to be a part of the team that is bringing horse racing back to one of its oldest homes. I’d like to thank the members of the General Assembly for passing the legislation that has made this day possible; Gov. Ralph Northam for signing the bill and for his strong support for this industry; our partners at Revolutionary Racing and in the Virginia horse racing community and the seller, Jacobs Entertainment, Inc.  I have no doubt Colonial Downs will continue to be a Virginia landmark in the years ahead, and a facility that all Virginians will be proud of.”

Jonathan Swain, chief operating officer of JNB Gaming, said: “There is no reason Virginia cannot be a national leader in horse racing. The Commonwealth has the climate, the history, and the talent to be at the top of the sport. The reopening of Colonial Downs gets us closer to making this a reality, and we are looking forward to being involved in this effort as it moves forward.”

Debbie Easter, president of the Virginia Equine Alliance and executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, added: “Thousands of Virginians work in our horse racing industry. It is deeply embedded in the fabric of Virginia. Unfortunately, over the past years, this industry has faced tough times. In roughly two decades, Virginia Thoroughbreds went from running more than 2,300 races to just 333 by 2014. And our breeding numbers have also declined dramatically. Our horses are having to race out of state, and they are taking the money, the jobs and the opportunities with them. Now, with this purchase, made possible by HB 1609, our industry has hope again. Horse racing is coming back to Virginia. And we could not be more excited.”

A recent study by Richmond-based firm Chmura Economics and Analytics found that the reopening of Colonial Downs, achieved via revenue generated by historical horse racing, should lead to the creation of over 1,400 new jobs; have an annual economic impact of $349.1 million; and generate $41.6 million in annual state and local tax revenue.

Further details regarding the return of racing to Colonial Downs, including racing dates, will be released in the months ahead.

2018 Virginia-Bred & Sired Racing Series In Maryland Approved By Virginia Racing Commission

Dates Announced For 2018 Virginia-Bred Racing Series In Maryland; Trainer/Owner Bonus Program Added To The Series 

The series of Virginia-bred or sired thoroughbred races in Maryland that has been so popular the past several years will return again in 2018 and will feature a new format. Previously, the three separate Saturday programs shared a combination of stakes and maiden events. The new version will offer maiden races on Friday and stakes exclusively on Saturday. A total of 18 races will be carded — 13 stakes at $75,000 and five maiden races at $40,000 apiece.

Saturday stakes days are scheduled for June 23rd (Edward Evans, White Oak Farm, Tyson Gilpin & Nellie Cox), August 4th (Hansel, William Backer, Meadow Stables & Camptown) and September 22nd (Bert Allen, Brookemeade, Oakley, Punch Line & Jamestown). A pair of maiden races will take place Friday June 22nd and a trio on Friday August 3rd.


Two other aspects are new to the Series.  A $20,000 Trainers and $20,000 Owners bonus program will offer awards to the overall top five leading trainers and owners that participate in the series. Points over the 18 scheduled races will be totaled at the end. Trainers and owners will be awarded five points for a win, four points for second, three points for third, four points for fourth and one for every finisher after fourth place.  $10,000 will be awarded for first place, $4,000 for second, $3,000 for third, $2,000 for fourth and $1,000 for fifth.

Horses that entered the new Virginia certified residency program in 2017 will be eligible to compete in one of the maiden races and could potentially enter a stakes race as well. A 5 1/2 furlong maiden sprint for two-year-olds is slated for  August 3rd and is open to Virginia-bred, sired or certified horses. The Jamestown Stakes, slated for September 22nd, could include certified horses if there are less than six Virginia-bred or Sired horses entered initially.

Frank Petramalo, HBPA Executive Director, presented Series details at the Virginia Racing Commission’s meeting on April 18th. Commissioners unanimously approved an expenditure of $1,085,000 from the HBPA purse fund and $130,000 from the Breeders Fund to execute the series as presented. Mr. Petramalo also noted that the Commonwealth Derby and Commonwealth Oaks — a pair of Grade 3 stakes that had been run in Maryland the last several years and partially funded by the HBPA — will not be run this year. He anticipates that both will be contested at Colonial Downs in 2019 and retain their graded status.


Iselin’s, Keswick Stables and Audley Farm Top The List Of 2017 Leading Virginia Breeders

Iselin’s, Keswick Stables and Audley Farm Top The List Of 2017 Leading Virginia Breeders  


The list of top Virginia breeders by 2017 purse winnings has been announced, and horses bred by Mr. & Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin III led the way with $934,958 in earnings. Their American Dubai kicked off the year with four straight wins at Sunland Park and by year’s end, had bankrolled $332,310 from nine “in the money” finishes. Other top Iselin-bred performers included Hold Me Black ($63,856), Swordfish ($60,654) and Drop Dead Red ($42,870). Sadly, Mr. Iselin passed away in November.

Stellar Wind, 2017 Virginia-bred Horse of the Year and Champion Dirt Mare, scored a natural hat trick with three consecutive Grade I stakes wins last year in the Apple Blossom, Beholder Mile and Clement Hirsch Stakes. Those triumphs equated to $800,000 in earnings and allowed her breeders — Peggy Augustus’s Keswick Stables and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC. — to finish in second place with $801,200.

Greyvitos went gate- to- wire in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. Photo courtesy of Benoit Photo.

Audley Farm was third thanks to a breakout campaign from Greyvitos, who positioned himself as a 2018 Triple Crown trail contender with a win in the Remington Springboard Mile. Combined with a victory in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, the Malibu Moon colt completed the year with $306,345 in earnings. Other noteworthy horses were Simmstown ($57,513), Unpredictable ($48,520) and Aljuljalah ($43,695). In all, 15 Audley horses combined to win $694,256.

Morgan’s Ford Farm, who finished fourth in the standings, bred a trio of $100,000 earners last year. Ring Knocker ($199,666), Queen Caroline ($115,318) and River Deep ($119,300) combined with 18 others to earn $654,065. Ring Knocker captured the Xtra Heat Stakes, Queen Caroline prevailed in both the Broomkmeade and Nellie  Mae Cox Stakes and River Deep, who was co-bred by F and F Stable, won four straight races last fall at Laurel.

Ring Knocker won a a $90,000 race at Saratoga September 4th. Photo by Adam Coglianese.

A pair bred by Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone also hit six digits in earnings to help them finish fifth in the standings. Northern Eclipse ($146,635) won the Camptown Stakes and had 9 “top three” finishes, while Special Envoy captured a Virginia-bred stakes in each of the three special Commonwealth programs at Laurel. The 7 year old Stroll gelding was best in the Edward Evans, Bert Allen and Hansel Stakes. Other top Firestone performers like Armoire ($72,390) and Dapper Dan ($55,500) contributed to their $586,0127 total.

The William Backer Revocable Trust was next with $511,754 thanks to a number of consistent showings. Ten of their horses earned over $20,000 and interestingly, the two highest earners never reached the winner’s circle last year. Chorus Line ($70,865) had six “in the money” finishes between New York tracks and Monmouth while Divine Interventio had five straight second or third place finishes on the New York circuit as well. Other top Backer horses were Buckys Pick ($54,430) and Going Rate ($34,416).

Rapid Rhythm, bred by the Lazy Lane Farms, LLC, won the Oakley Stakes at Laurel last fall. Photo by Jim McCue.

Six horses bred by Lazy Lane Farms won $39,000 or more in 2017. Rapid Rhythm ($77,094), Lenstar ($72,273), Carbon Data ($66,380), Sweet Sandy ($56,962) Sambrook Edge ($47,390) and Cryptos’ Holiday ($39,300) all chipped in toward a $456,537 total figure. Rapid Rhythm won a pair of stakes at Fair Grounds — the Mardi Gras and Richard Scherer Memorial.

A dozen horses bred by Larry Johnson earned over $15,000 last year, topped by Do What I Say ($51,935) and Magician’s Vanity ($48,590). The former captured the Tyson Gilpin Stakes at Laurel while the well traveled latter horse bagged a win at Laurel, two runner-ups at Saratoga and a second and third at Gulfstream. In all, Johnson-bred horses earned $391,333.

Long On Value wins the Jamestown Stakes at Colonial Downs as a 2 year old in 2013. Courtesy of Coady Photography.

Snow Lantern Thoroughbreds ($306,485) and the Estate of Edward Evans ($284,849) round out the list of top breeders. Snow Lantern’s Long On Value did not gain a win last year but did bankroll $302,225 from solid efforts at Woodbine, Saratoga, Gulfstream and Meydan Racecourse. The Edward Evans-bred Code West earned $149,700 from a triumph in Zia Park’s Veterans Stakes and from another six stakes where he finished fourth or better.

Virginia Residency Program Provides Full Barns, And A Future.

The following was written by Nick Hahn and appeared in The Racing Biz on April 12th.

Call it a one-two punch.

Governor Ralph Northam’s signing of House Bill 1609 that allows historical horse racing at Colonial Downs and satellite facilities is the second step of a Virginia Thoroughbred industry revitalization process that actually began with a promising incentive program launched last year that is already having visible benefits.

Historical racing is a form a wagering that allows players to bet on previously run races without knowing which races they are wagering on, creating a slot machine-like outcome. Advocates project the machines could generate over $160 million in revenue by 2022 to the company that operates them, expected to be Revolutionary Racing after it settles with current owner Jacobs Entertainment on the sale of Colonial Downs. And the machines are expected to generate millions for racing purses.

As important as the reopening of Colonial Downs is, however, the track will only thrive if there are horses to run at it, and the Virginia Certified Residency Program is helping to foster that population.

The program encourages owners to keep their horses in Virginia for a minimum six-month residency prior to the start of their three-year-old year. Owners of certified horses can earn a 25 percent bonus for wins at mid-Atlantic racetracks (details here).

The promising incentive program is filling the barns of established racing and training entities that previously were searching for viability and now could be headed toward vitality.

On the track at Braeburn Farm. Photo by Nick Hahn.

At DMC Racing Stables in Berryville, proprietor Diana McClure saw nothing but dwindling numbers across the board until the announcement of the program. There were no new clients for McClure, and the ones she had were bringing fewer horses to her for a shorter period of time. After a few months of signing up, McClure would see the number of clients rise, the number of horses rise and the duration of their visits lengthen.

“I don’t know what we would have done,” said McClure. “This is a steady revenue stream. We’re surviving, even thriving. The intention is to keep it going even after the racetrack opens. We were sitting at a table two years ago trying to figure out what to do. We all knew we had to do something. We didn’t know the impacts would be this good.”

McClure reports that her horse population has risen from around five to 18. Her husband, Mike, previously ran their northern Virginia farm with the help of one-part time employee. Now the farm payrolls two full-time employees and five part-timers. Her feed bill frequently spills over $1500 per week, double what it was.

What’s more, horses that used to come for a brief breaking period — the so-called “90-day wonders” – are staying longer and benefitting from a higher level of workmanship in breaking and training. That, says McClure, makes “owners happy to do it,” getting a better horse when it comes back to New York or Maryland or Pennsylvania.

The benefits are being widely seen across the Commonwealth.

At Eagle Point Farm in Ashland, just down the road from where Secretariat was foaled, Donna Dennehy is spreading joy.

“Our feedman is happy, our strawman is happy,” explained Dennehy who has hired five more grooms and/or maintenance positions since the program began. “We’ve resurfaced breaking pens, bought a starting gate and a golf cart and are fixing up things around here that haven’t been touched in years.”

A little more than a year ago Dennehy had two yearlings on her farm; now she says she has 24. Dennehy has actually had to turn horses away in recent months. Many are staying well over their six-month minimum, and should Colonial Downs open in 2019, could stay for even longer – like permanently.

“Residency can lead to breeding, which would be nice since we’ve sure lost some biggies,” noted Dennehy echoing back to the relatively recent losses of an older generation of horsemen like Edward P. Evans, Nellie Mae Cox, William Backer and Randolph Rouse among others, yesterday’s giants that many of today’s Virginia horsemen knew, worked with and even raced against.

At scenic Braeburn Farm in Crozet, just outside of Charlottesville, Patrick Nuesch has spent many of his mornings galloping horses alone. In a family loaded with horsemen, Nuesch was seeking answers to maintain the lifestyle he’s always known.

“The program should certainly generate funding long term,” explains Nuesch. “It’s kept us in business.”

At one point, Nuesch was able to count the number of horses in his barn on both hands, but he now sees the stall chalkboard covered in white as he walks into his office every morning. While Nuesch is very hands-on in his approach to handling horses, he’s enjoying the ability to delegate to the extra staff he now enjoys. No longer does he have to perfect his craft in solitude. An empty 23-stall barn alongside the one he recently filled may see its doors reopened soon.

Nearly all of Virginia’s horsemen have longed to connect with Virginia’s significant thoroughbred past.

Dominant in racing in the early days of the Republic, Virginia became known as a breeding state after racing was banned in the early 1910s. Virginia horsemen continued to bred numerous Triple Crown race winners well before and well after Triple Crown-winning Secretariat.

When racing finally attained legislative approval in 1989, it took eight years to open Colonial Downs in 1997. Colonial Downs’s turf has lain dormant since July 13, 2013, (other than a single day of nonwagering steeplechase racing held in 2014).

Looking forward, Virginia’s live racing future is now, well, Revolutionary as in Revolutionary Racing, headed by Larry Lucas and Prentice Salter. That group is scheduled to close on the purchase of Colonial Downs within the next months, according to sources, and live racing could return to central Virginia in 2019, six years after the last time the racing lights over its magnificent turf course went dark.

Horsemen have been able to gain a year of solid momentum thanks to this incentive program leading up to the opening. With the Governor’s signature now on House Bill 1609, the incentive program just became more valuable and could thrive in the long term. Many of the 92 horse outfits registered as part of the certified program keep their thoroughbreds in Virginia’s traditional thoroughbred triangle between and among Charlottesville, Richmond and northern Virginia. That’s also the triangle in Virginia usually under significant development pressure.

Virginia horsemen know that in horse racing’s economic equation, it doesn’t take much to throw the equilibrium off. Yet in the last twelve months, their futures have become, for the first time in a long time, more stable.

Virginia Governor Signs Historic Horse Racing Bill

The following appeared in The Paulick Report April 10, 2018.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday signed House Bill 1609, Returning Horse Racing to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A statement from the governor’s office stated: The governor was pleased to sign this bill, which will enable the return of horse racing to the Commonwealth of Virginia. At the same time, the governor issued an executive directive outlining priorities he would like to see reflected in the regulations that the Virginia Racing Commission will develop. These priorities include extensive stakeholder and public engagement and placement of reasonable limitations on the proliferation of gaming in Virginia. The full text of that directive is at the bottom of this release.

The full text of the Governor’s Executive Directive with respect to the horse racing legislation is here below:

Executive Directive I (2018)
Directing the Virginia Racing Commission Regarding Regulations Related to Historic Horse Racing Pursuant to House Bill 1609
Importance of the Initiative

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a rich history of horse racing dating back to when Virginia was still a colony. Virginians have been breeding and racing thoroughbreds for hundreds of years, and it is an important part of our economy. From early days to the Triple Crown-winning Secretariat from Caroline County and continuing to today, horse racing holds a special place in Virginia’s history.

Currently, Virginia no longer hosts thoroughbred racing on the scale that reflects our state’s close historic association with the sport. The horse track at Colonial Downs that once held regular races has not seen a horse race in several years. Without a major thoroughbred track in the state where Virginia-bred horses can race, and without a source of revenue to support the industry, it will be difficult for Virginia to once again be a place where the horse industry can thrive.

For these reasons, I was pleased to sign House Bill 1609 into law. I am hopeful that this legislation will reinvigorate the horse industry and allow thoroughbred racing to return to Virginia.

While I am excited about the opportunities that this legislation presents to Virginia’s horse industry, the signing of this legislation begins an important process regarding the regulation of historic horse racing. HB 1609 authorizes the expansion of Virginia’s pari-mutuel wagering laws to include wagering on horse races that have already taken place. As seen in other states that have adopted similar legislation, this type of wagering often takes place through an electronic machine. These machines can allow for multiple, simultaneous bets and for numerous bets in a very short period of time.  House Bill 1609 allows this type of wagering to take place at a significant infrastructure facility horse track and at up to ten satellite facilities across the state. This is a significant departure from the type of pari-mutuel wagering that has taken place in Virginia to date.

House Bill 1609 empowers the Virginia Racing Commission (“Commission”) to craft regulations regarding the conduct of historic horse racing. The Administrative Process Act (Va. Code § 2.2-4000 et seq.) requires that I approve any regulations promulgated by the Virginia Racing Commission before they become effective.

Given the importance of these regulations to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia horse racing industry, local communities, law enforcement, and various other interests, it is essential that these regulations be crafted in an open, deliberate, and responsible manner. It is also important that the regulations be comprehensive to ensure that any gaming activity in Virginia is conducted responsibly and in a manner consistent with the intent of the General Assembly.

Racing is expected to return to New Kent in 2019.

Directive to the Virginia Racing Commission
Accordingly, pursuant to the authority vested in me as the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth and pursuant to Article V of the Constitution of Virginia and the laws of the Commonwealth, I hereby provide the following directives to the Commission regarding the promulgation of regulations related to historic horse racing as authorized by House Bill 1609 (2018).

In crafting these regulations, the Commission shall consider the following:

  • Identification of a revenue source for the Virginia horse racing industry in order to support the reintroduction of thoroughbred racing in Virginia;
  • That any license or authority granted by the Commission for the purpose of conducting historic horse racing be used for the purpose of conducting wagering on live horse racing, simulcast horse racing, or historic horse racing and not for any other purpose;
  • Placement of reasonable limitations on the proliferation of gaming in Virginia through historic horse racing machines in order to ensure the safety and welfare of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia;
  • Local community opinions in determining whether to allow historic horse racing in a given locality;
  • Ensuring due attention is paid to gambling addiction education, prevention, and treatment in the conduct of historic horse racing; and
  • Establishment of a maximum number of historic horse racing machines at a racetrack and a maximum number of historic horse racing machines at a satellite facility as well as provisions related to physical size of satellite facilities.

In order to provide a full opportunity for public engagement during the development of regulations related to historic horse racing, I direct:

  • That the Commission and its staff shall maximize opportunities for public engagement, comment, and public review of draft proposed and final regulations and that such public engagement begin immediately;
  • That the Commission and its staff shall actively engage interested parties in public meetings, including local government representatives and organizations and law enforcement, in drafting regulations and that such engagement begin immediately; and
  • That the Commission shall work to keep the Secretaries of Commerce and Trade and Finance, the Office of the Governor, and members of the Virginia General Assembly informed regarding the regulatory development process.

I further direct:

  • That the Department of Planning and Budget, in conducting its economic impact analysis, consider the impact these regulations will have on potential future revenues to the Commonwealth from other sources.

Effective Date
This Executive Directive shall be effective upon its signing and shall remain in force and effect unless amended or rescinded by future executive order or directive.

Given under my hand and under the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, this 9th day of April, 2018.

Virginia-Bred 2017 Horse of the Year Stellar Wind In Ireland – To Be Bred to Galileo

Champion mare was bought for $ 6 million at Keeneland November sale.

Multiple grade 1 winner Stellar Wind, who M.V. Magnier purchased for $6 million at the 2017 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, was exported to Ireland and will be bred to leading European sire Galileo, Coolmore associates confirmed March 26.

Export records show the mare was shipped to Ireland March 9.

Stellar Wind is shown at the 2017 Keeneland November Sale

Stellar Wind, a 6-year-old daughter of Curlin  out of the winning Malibu Moon  daughter Evening Star, was bred in Virginia by Keswick Stables and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. She sold as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale for $40,000 to Vernan Lee Stables, then was sold again for $86,000 to Barbara Houck at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale. 

The filly won at 2 and then improved exponentially from there. Houck only raced Stellar Wind twice before she was bought by Hronis Racing and put in the care of trainer John Sadler. In 2015 she earned Eclipse honors as champion 3-year-old filly after winning the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and three other graded stakes, along with a runner-up finish in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). She won six grade 1 stakes overall, including victories over multiple champion Beholder in the 2016 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) and Zenyatta Stakes (G1).

Stellar Wind was entered in this year’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) where she was unplaced, but added another $650,000 to her payroll. She retired with a 10-2-1 record out of 17 starts and earnings of $2,903,200.

Rare Twins To Make Their Racing Debut Friday At Charles Town

The following appeared in The Daily Racing Form on April 4th. Mr. Ping & Mr. Pong — the twins — are trained by Larry Curtis, who is based at the  Middleburg Training Center. His wife Cindy is a VTA Board member.  

Regardless of what it says on the tote board, the twins Mr. Ping and Mr. Pong will have already defied astronomical odds when they break from the gate in Friday’s fourth race at Charles Town.

The successful birth of twins is rare for horses, especially Thoroughbreds, due to the risks it can pose to both the mare and foals. About 10 percent of Thoroughbred pregnancies initially result in twins, but almost all of them are either brought down to one by a veterinarian, the mare will abort both potential foals, or complications will lead to at least one stillborn foal.

Mr. Ping & Mr. Pong will make their first career starts at Charles Town April 6th.

Difficulties can continue after birth, and the training process can send horses in any number of directions. Still, these twin 3-year-old Denis of Cork colts, out of the unraced Domestic Dispute mare Washingtonian, will debut together in the same race.

The colts were born at Amanda Morro’s Avonwood Farm in Charles Town, W.Va., for owner-breeder John P. Casey. Initial ultrasounds failed to reveal that the mare was carrying twins, and the nearly 17-hands-tall Washingtonian arrived at Avonwood earlier than planned out of concern over different pregnancy complications.

“She carried them and showed no sign of twins, other than she was very big,” said trainer Larry Curtis. “But she was always big, so we didn’t think anything of it.”

When Washingtonian began to foal, Morro was presented with four feet instead of the usual two. Morro thought she was dealing with dystocia – obstructed labor. She tried to hold the foal in place until the vet arrived. Mr. Ping emerged first, with Mr. Pong following a few minutes later.

Both chestnuts sported flashy blazes. Mr. Ping inherited his mother’s socks, but was small and weak, weighing about 25 pounds, compared to the plain-legged Mr. Pong, who pushed 70 pounds and nursed readily.

“Normally, one is bigger than the other, and the smaller twin does not usually survive,” Morro said. “Most of the time they are stillborn. In this situation, he looked very underdeveloped. We knew it was going to be a lot of care.

 “I slept in the stall for about two weeks. We had to bottle feed for about 10 days. Once the baby was tall enough to reach the mare’s udder, we took turns helping him nurse, and he got stronger as days went on.”

Mr. Ping continued to go through potentially life-threatening difficulties through his first months, but he was healthy enough to wean with his brother at 6 months old. Curtis took Mr. Pong, while Mr. Ping stayed with Morro for further care. Though he never grew to match his brother’s size, Mr. Ping was eventually deemed ready to join him in training.

Unsurprisingly, Curtis identified the better-developed Mr. Pong as the more likely to succeed of the two, but the trainer said they both have their own strengths.

“He’s a little bit farther along and fitter than the other one, and he’s shown a little bit more talent,” Curtis said of Mr. Pong. “He’s not as good a mover, but the smaller one breaks a little sharper.”

Mr. Pong was set as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line for Friday’s 4 1/2-furlong race, while Mr. Ping is not far behind at 7-2.

Morro said the Avonwood Farm staff would be out in force to watch the foals run. The colts have already developed a following on social media after Morro posted photos of them as foals nursing off their mother.

“I think our Facebook page has had about 34,000 views,” she said. “We’re having some shirts made up, and we’re having the farm crew go to support them. Hopefully they’ll run well.”

Curtis expects the colts want more distance than they will see in their debut, but regardless of how they perform on the track, the trainer already sees potential for their second careers.

“Mr. Pong has a real good disposition, and he’ll make someone a lovely riding horse one day,” he said. “The other one will be a good polo pony one day when he gets through racing, but hopefully we can have some fun with them and win a couple races. We’ll make sure when the time comes that they have good homes.”

’17 “Zeke” Ferguson Stakes Winner, Balance The Budget, Scores In $150,000 Grade 1 Colonial Cup

The following appeared in on April 1st.

Taking advantage of a Springdale Racecourse that favored speed, Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget jumped out to a yawning early advantage in the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (NSA-G1) March 31 and came home to a 6 1/4-length victory under Mark Watts.

Zanjabeel, making his first start in open company in this country, closed ground in the stretch but never threatened Balance the Budget, who recorded his second straight National Steeplechase Association graded victory for trainer Julie Gomena and his first NSA grade 1 win.

Edith Dixon’s Schoodic took third, and Hinterland was fourth in a field of six. Balance the Budget, a 9-year-old Bellamy Road  gelding, ran the Colonial Cup’s 2 3/8-mile distance in 4:30 flat on firm turf.

The Colonial Cup, the first grade 1 race of the NSA season, keyed a record-setting 84th annual Carolina Cup Races in Camden, S.C., under clear skies with temperatures in the low 70s. The meet offered a South Carolina-record $325,000 in purses.

On an afternoon when speed was holding well, Watts wasted no time in moving the frontrunner to the lead and quickly opened a margin of more than 20 lengths over Zanjabeel and Show Court. Those two were at the head of Balance the Budget’s trailing group.

Balance the Budget continued to jump forwardly, and Watts gave him a brief timeout before entering the final turn.

“I gave him a break there, and then I got him going again. He was going very well,” the South Carolina-based rider said.

Balance the Budget closed 2017 with a nine-length score in the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (NSA-2), in which he opened a long lead and cruised to his second graded victory. On the same Springdale Racecourse turf as the Colonial Cup, he won the 2016 Carolina Cup Hurdle Stakes for novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.

The Colonial Cup was Balance the Budget’s sixth win over fences for Virginia-based trainer Gomena, and the Colonial Cup’s $90,000 first-place purse raised his career jumps earnings above $400,000.

Zanjabeel, now owned by Rosbrian Farm and Wendy and Ben Griswold, marched through the novice ranks last fall, winning Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle Stakes for his former owners and then winning the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle Stakes for trainer Ricky Hendriks and his new American owners. He finished 2 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Schoodic.