Monthly Archives: April 2020

Middleburg Spring Race Chairman Doug Fout Prepares Virginia’s Oldest Steeplechase For Its 100th Running

The Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with events around the globe, and Virginia’s spring horse racing season has been no exception as postponements and cancellations have dotted the spring calendar. Virginia’s oldest steeplechase meet — the Middleburg Spring Races — was set to have its 100th running April 18 at picturesque Glenwood Park. Due to the pandemic, the meet date has changed twice and is now scheduled for Saturday June 13, although the event could hinge on what virus-related Executive Orders Governor Ralph Northam may or may not have in place at that time. His current stay at home order is in effect until June 10.

Glenwood Park is scheduled to host the 100th edition of the Middleburg Spring Races June 13.

Traditionally held the “Third Saturday in April”, the Middleburg Spring Races are synonymous with hospitality, graceful country living and great sport. Signs in town promote that Middleburg IS Virginia horse country. The first steeplechase meet was held there in 1921 and its rich history dates back to 1911 when Daniel Cox Sands organized the first Middleburg Hunt meet.

Middleburg’s grass course is 1 1/4 miles around at its outermost point.

Doug Fout has been President of the Middleburg Spring Race Association for 17 years and is carrying on a legacy started by his late father Paul, who was Past President, Chairman and GM of the Spring Races. “I was born and raised on this course,” he said. “When I was five or six years old, I ran up and down the bleachers, ran in the woods here and pretty much got lost in the woods.”

Middleburg Spring Race Association President Doug Fout is also Clerk of the Course for the Fall Races and Point-to-Points held at Glenwood Park.

The property encompasses 112 acres and the grass course is 1 1/4 miles around at its outermost lane. There are three barns and 88 stalls. Spectators enjoy a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Under Fout’s direction, Middleburg has gone from a Class D course to a Class A venue. “I’ve enjoyed the transition and am amazed how much it has changed over the years,” he said. “At one time, the head trustee here used to have cattle on it and only moved them off the property ten days before the races so we could get a chance to mow the grass before horses arrived.”

The Blue Ridge Mountains provide a scenic backdrop for spectators at Glenwood Park.

Over time, each sanctioned steeplechase meet in the Commonwealth — the Gold Cup, Montpelier and Foxfield — has developed its own niche. “Out meet is so different because we only have one road coming in and one going out, so we can only accommodate a certain amount of people,” said Fout. “And it’s an old country road that is so narrow and limited.”

Paul Fout, Doug’s father, started the process of elevating the Middleburg Spring Races to a Class A event.

Attendance averages between 6,800 and 7,200 by design. “It’s a boutique meet and we don’t cater to big crowds,” said Fout. “We have a quality crowd that tends to come in smaller groups and actually enjoys watching the races while they tailgate. No matter where you stand or sit, you’ll have a great view of the course all the way around. And that goes for people that pay $15 for a ticket as well as for major sponsors that might pay $10,000 of $15,000,” he added. “We purposely don’t park cars in the infield. If we did, we’d lose the beauty of the racecourse and don’t want to lose that ambience. At Glenwood, you’re in a bowl looking out at the Blue Ridge. We’d never want to jeopardize the value of that view.”

The Jockeys Room at Glenwood Park offers a pleasant view from its porch.

As far as the race program itself goes, Fout’s goal is to stick with a similar event lineup each year. He dedicates around $190,000 for purses and come June 13 — assuming they are able to run with or even without spectators — anticipates carding as many as nine or ten races. Featured annual race is the $75,000 Temple Gwathmey, a Grade 2 hurdle stakes which has been contested at Glenwood since 1990 and features the best hurdle horses in the country. Another staple is the Alfred Hunt Steeplethon which is two miles, five furlongs in length and held over various fences and obstacles like ditches, banks, brush, timber, coops and water. The “fanciful” course was designed by Doug’s father and Tommy Beach. Similar races are also held at Willowdale (Pennsylvania) and at the Gold Cup so horses have a series of sorts in this category.

Glenwood Park’s final turn before the finish line.

“Besides those two, I always schedule a straight non-winners of two (NW2), a timber stakes, and a maiden hurdle that is often split into two divisions,” said Fout. “I like having a handicap race for older horses and a straight NW2 because it gives maiden horses another stepping stone to get more experience before they have to jump into the heavy hits.”

The winners circle at Glenwood Park is also named in Paul Fout’s honor.

In order to ensure a solid future, the Middleburg Spring Races recently began an endowment campaign which coincided with the celebration of their Centennial Year launch. Fout said the return generated by a $3 million endowment will be used solely for annual purse meet distribution and no other expenses. The campaign has already generated $1.2 million toward that goal.

Glenwood Park has 3 barns that provide 88 stalls for competitors.

“We’re different from other meets in that we don’t have to count on all the spectator tailgates and general admission revenues to help with the purse structure,” said Fout. “Of course those proceeds help to pay expenses but we can’t get enough people in here to make a big difference with purse monies given our capacity. We have a Sports Council group that has been the long time backbone of our race meet along with a number of individuals that have been kind and supportive and have been a rock over the years.” Members of those groups and other sponsors enjoy premier seating in VIP hospitality areas perched above the finish area behind the stewards stand.

The Glenwood Park property is protected courtesy of a conservation easement.

Besides is passion fpr the Spring Races, Fout currently trains 24 horses at his farm in The Plains, conveniently located just ten minutes from Glenwood Park. His most accomplished horse was Hirapour, who won an Eclipse award and six Grade I stakes including a track record performance in the 2004 Colonial Cup at Springdale Race Course. Proximity between the farm and Glenwood is key. “I stay busy,” he said. “I’m always running horses and still try to get up to Glenwood two or three times a week. Sometimes I’ll even work there all weekend. I’ve got a great long time assistant there in Brian Pope who takes care of mowing, maintenance, roads, barns, fences and pretty much anything else. He’s a blessing.”

Steps lead to a VIP tailgate/tented area for race sponsors.

Fout gets emotional when he thinks about the effort his father put in to Glenwood Park and the efforts he continues to make to bring it to another level. “I just have a ton of pride in this place,” he said. “I’m trying to follow in my father’s footsteps to make the course better each year and have a bigger purse structure. My father’s dream was to see this upgraded and he saw it 90 percent of the way through. I just wish he could see it today.”

A Look Back At Colonial Downs’ 2019 “Racing Revival” Season

Stall applications for the 2020 Colonial Downs summer season are now available for download at and plus, the Colonial condition book will be released shortly. This year’s meet is scheduled to run July 23 – August 29. With a virtual running of the Kentucky Derby set for Saturday May 2 and an actual Arkansas Derby — in two $500,000 divisions — set for the same day, the time seems right to take a look back at the Colonial Downs “Racing Revival” season last summer. 

Virginia’s first partnership with horses began back in 1609 with the arrival of the first horse to the Virginia colonies. According to many historians, the first American horse races were held in Henrico County, near Richmond, in 1674 and the first racetrack in Virginia was a one mile oval that operated in Williamsburg in 1739. Now fast forward 279 years.

In 2018, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1609 which authorized expansion of the Commonwealth’s pari-mutuel wagering laws to include betting on horse races that have already taken place (Historical Horse Racing). That legislation triggered thoroughbred racing’s return to Colonial Downs last summer through the investment of the Colonial Downs Group — a division of Peninsula Pacific — for the first time since 2013.

With the call of “Riders Up” from Kate Tweedy, daughter of Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, thoroughbred racing in Virginia began a new era August 8, 2019 as Colonial Downs conducted racing for the first time in six years. The five week meet was met with enthusiastic crowds and top flight racing that saw 1,229 horses compete over five weeks for $7.4 million in purse monies.

Charmn Charlie Ray held on to win the first race with Mychel Sanchez up top. Photo by Coady Photography.

Foxtale Racing Stable’s Charmn Charlie Ray, ridden by Mychel Sanchez, went wire-to-wire in capturing the meet’s first race by a head over Conquest Falcon. On his reaction to his winning the first race back at Colonial, Sanchez said, “It was pretty awesome. This was my first time here and it’s a beautiful place. Happy for everyone to get it back going again. The turf is amazing.”

A Glittering Night for the Virginia Derby

One of the season’s top moments was the 17th running of the Virginia Derby, which along with a stellar under card of three additional stakes, highlighted a “Racing Revival Weekend”. Top three-year-old turf horses like Eclipse award winning champions English Channel (2005), Gio Ponti (2008) and Kitten’s Joy (2004) have reached the winner’s circle in past Derbies. Other high profile winners include Go Between, Paddy O’Prado and Silver Max among others.

The 2019 edition, a Grade 3 stakes sponsored by New Kent County, was won by Calumet Farm’s English Bee who held off a late rally from Jais’s Solitude to prevail by a head. Jorge Vargas, Jr. was aboard the Graham Motion-trained son of 2005 Virginia Derby winner English Channel.

“I’ve had a couple of tough beats (in this race) over the years,” said Motion after the race. “This is a tough little horse. He’s really deserving because he always shows up and tries so hard. It’s great to be here with a big crowd on an exciting night. Great racing.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam presented the Virginia Derby trophy in the winner’s circle.

English Bee (inside) noses out Jais’s Solitude to win the 2019 Virginia Derby.

In the evening’s under card, Godolphin’s Carnival Colors rallied three-wide in the stretch and drew off to a 1¼-length score in the $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Virginia Oaks to give trainer Mike Stidham his second stakes tally of the night (he also won the $100,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Kitten’s Joy Stakes with Doc Boy). Forest Boyce was in the irons for the Distorted Humor filly.

“I ran a few horses at Colonial years ago but never came here in person,” Stidham said. “This is the first time we’ve had a major presence here. The purse money is great and both racing surfaces are fabulous. I couldn’t be happier. I wish the meet would never end.”

It’s not often one sees a first-time starter in a $100,000 stakes race, let alone win it, but that’s what happened when Breeze Easy’s Four Wheel Drive was on cruise control in taking the Exacta Systems Rosie’s Stakes by 3 ¼ length. Jorge Vargas, Jr. rode the Wesley Ward-trained son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to victory in a course-record time of 1:00.84 for the 5½ furlongs.

After the win, owner Mike Hall spoke of lofty ambitions he had in store for Four Wheel Drive. “We bought this horse as a yearling and we’ve trained him through the process,” he said. “Wesley told us it was time for him to run. We made plans to run in this race several months ago and it really worked out well. We’ll probably try to get to at least one more race and hope to get to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Four Wheel captures the inaugural running of the Rosie’s Stakes in 2019.


Four Wheel Drive followed his owner’s desires to a tee. The three-year-old Kentucky-bred colt went on to win the Grade 3 Futurity Stakes at Belmont and the $1 Million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

Rick Kanter’s Doc Boy overcame a tardy start and rallied wide in the second turn to capture the Kitten’s Joy Stakes. “I’m pleased he was able to step right out of a maiden race and win a stakes,” said trainer Stidham. “That’s what we were all hoping for. He still has a lot to learn. He’s a big powerful horse. He’s got a big future I think.”

Doc Boy kicked off 2020 with a win in the Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and rolled into spring with $153,155 in purse monies.

Virginia-Bred/Sired Stakes Bookend The “Racing Revival”

Nine stakes for Virginia-Bred/Sired horses that each featured $100,000 purses created some memorable moments as well.

Eagle Point Farm’s homebred filly What the Beep overtook longshot English Heiress in deep stretch to win the first of those, the M. Tyson Gilpin Stakes, by a length on opening weekend. Owner-trainer Godsey was both ecstatic and emotional afterwards. “My family fought so hard for Colonial Downs to get here originally, then fought so hard for it to come back (after a six-year hiatus). The mare’s dam (Toccoa) was the first winner I had as a trainer and to win in front of this huge crowd was awesome. It’s hard to put into words how I feel.”

Trainer Karen Godsey, her mother Donna Dennehy, and jockey Forest Boyce are all smiles after What The Beep’s win.

Later that evening, Morgan Ford Farm’s River Deep was moved up to the top spot in the Edward P. Evans Stakes following the disqualification of original winner Speed Gracer who was placed fourth following a steward’s inquiry. The adjudicated victory gave the Phil Schoenthal-trained son of Arch his third Virginia-Bred stakes triumph. He won the 2018 Hansel and Bert Allen Stakes at Laurel Park.

The meaning of that opening weekend event was not lost on Schoenthal, “What’s special about this day is that it rewards all the breeders that hung in there for all those years (with no racing in Virginia) and kept on breeding Virginia-breds. It would have been very easy to ship their mares to Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York or anywhere else, so it was gratifying to see these people being rewarded with $100,000 purses in their home state, on a beautiful night, at a beautiful racetrack. It’s a great night for Virginia racing and Virginia horse breeders.”

On closing night, Holly and David Wilson’s Yes It’s True filly, Holly Hundy, invaded from California complete with her regular jockey, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux. She earned an easy three-plus length victory over Solarte in the Camptown Stakes and boosted her bankroll to $145,022. The resume enhancing victory helped propel Holly Hundy to be named 2019 Virginia-Bred 3-Year-Old Filly of the Year.

Holly Hundy, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, was best in the Camptown Stakes at Colonial Downs. closing night. Photo by Coady Photography.

Saratoga shipper Ferdinanda, who races in the silks of Ann Backer and is trained by Barclay Tagg, made easy work disposing of her rivals in coasting to a six-length victory in the Brookmeade Stakes. “I knew I was on a pretty nice horse when I looked in the program and saw the name Barclay Tagg,” said winning rider Forest Boyce. “The first part of the race I just let her find her own position, find her own way. I just waited as long as I could before making a move to the lead.”

Ferdinanda was recognized as Top 2019 Virginia-Bred Older Turf Mare while the Backer Stable earned Top Virginia Breeder honors.

Several Open stakes were contested during the meet. Extravagant Kid, owned by Northern Virginia businessman David Ross, invaded from Kentucky (via Toronto) to win the $75,000 Da Hoss Stakes. By year’s end, the 7-year-old son of Kiss the Kid’s career bankroll stood at $727,214 from 12 wins. The Da Hoss was one of four stakes triumphs he had in 2019. His others came at Gulfstream, Tampa and Churchill.

“It’s just wonderful to see a great horse win a great race,” Ross said after the victory. “He’s just a terrific horse.” Ross also spoke of racing’s return to New Kent. “I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the operation here. It’s just been a step above anything I could ever have imagined. We’ve been supporting Colonial for years and it’s so good to be back and so good to see the quality of the operation. It’s only going to get better from here.”

David and Dana Ross are shown with the Da Hoss trophy courtesy of Extravagant KId’s win.

Reality Horse Racing’s Redeemed Gentleman made a five-wide rally down the lane to win another Open stakes, the $75,000 Old Nelson Starter Handicap, at odds of 39-1. The Maryland-bred rewarded his backers with a $81.80 payoff. It was the first stakes win for both trainer Anthony Aguirre and owner Jerome Aiken.

“We’ve had a lot of setbacks getting to this point,” said a jubilant Aguirre in the winners circle. “We knew he (Redeemed Gentlemen) would relish the distance. We don’t often have this kind of opportunity to run 1 3/16ths in Maryland, let alone on turf,” he added. “We knew the company would be tough and obviously the bettors thought so also at 39-1.”

Season Ending Figures — “An Unqualified Success”

Sparked by outstanding participation from horsemen and racing fans, Colonial Downs concluded its 2019 race meeting punctuated by a lucrative daily purse structure, large fields and an emphasis on horse safety and welfare for its participants.

Total handle for the 15-day meet exceeded $17.5 million for the 144 races that were conducted. 895 different horses competed representing 17 states including the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, and also from California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisiana and Florida. Average field size was 8.53 horses per race. There were no racing or training equine fatalities from the time the barn area opened on July 25.

As an incentive for horsemen, Colonial Downs introduced both owner and trainer participation programs. Each owner received $1000 per start for any of its horses which did not earn $1000 in that race, and each trainer received $300 for each time they started a horse. Colonial paid out $614,000 in owners incentive bonuses and $364,300 in trainer bonuses. Colonial also established a mount fee schedule with a minimum fee of $125 per ride, the highest in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Among sweeping improvements to the facility were upgrades to the racetrack, including a new irrigation system for its world-renowned Secretariat turf course, renovations to the 1 ¼-mile dirt track, stable area and paddock, receiving and test barns and dormitories and a new jockey’s room kitchen.

Colonial Downs VP of Racing Jill Byrne stands in front of a controlled burn of the turf course, which took place March 30th this year in preparation for the 2020 season.

90% of the races were held over Colonial’s massive grass course which is the widest in the country at 180 feet across. It is 7 1/2 furlongs around at the inner most rail setting and 1 1/8 miles at its outermost. To recognize Secretariat’s Virginia legacy, the Colonial Downs turf course was named in the champion’s honor in 1998, and that relationship was renewed with the Secretariat Foundation in July, 2019.

Besides Derby Day’s winning conditioners mentioned earlier, the meet drew top trainers from across the country including Shug McGaughey, Jonathan Sheppard, Arnaud Delacour, Jonathan Thomas, Tom Proctor, Ferris Allen, Steve Asmussen, Dallas Stewart, Ian Wilkes, Vladimir Cerin and Bob Hess.

Mike Stidham and Jamie Ness led all trainers with 10 wins apiece, with Ness topping the leader board in purses with $293,040. David A. Ross’s DARRS, Inc., led the owner standings with five wins, followed by Endsley Oaks Farm with four. Trevor McCarthy led all jockeys with 15 wins and $777,590 in total purses. Horacio Karamanos, Daniel Centeno and Mychel Sanchez all tied for second, each with 13 victories. Karamanos led all riders in mounts with 101.

“By all accounts, our Racing Revival was an unqualified success,” said Jill Byrne, Colonial Downs Vice President of Racing Operations. “The 2019 meet was an especially emotional and rewarding season for the hundreds of people who worked so hard over the last year to make the return of racing in Virginia become a reality. We thank our horseman who participated, to all of our fans who came out and enjoyed a tremendous experience, and to the dedication and support demonstrated by our racing department, officials and track maintenance team which worked long hours with great efficiency in conducting a safe and successful racing program.”

Virginia Horse Center In Lexington Sees Financial Benefits From Horse Race Wagering

In pari-mutuel wagering, 80% of a wagering pool (on average) is paid back to bettors while the remaining 20% is considered “takeout”. The takeout rate is the percentage of each wagering pool that is withheld by the track. This money is used to pay for many things including purses for races, for operating the facility and for profit to the track owner. Takeout is necessary in order to put on the show.

In Virginia, three other important industry entities receive a small statutory percentage of wagers placed as well. The Virginia Tech Vet School, Virginia Horse Industry Board and Virginia Horse Center each benefit. Between 2016 – 2019, the Horse Center received between $41,000 – $49,000 annually, made up from bets placed at live race venues, simulcast locations and from four on line betting providers.

Here’s a closer look at the latter of those three.

The Virginia Horse Center, based in Lexington and convenient to both I-81 and I-64, is an economic and cultural asset to both Rockbridge County and the Commonwealth. It is an important resource to the East-Atlantic competition circuit and it hosts all disciplines of equestrian sport, standing at the forefront of Virginia’s $1.2 billion equine community.

The Virginia Horse Center was responsible for $94.9 million in economic activity in 2019, supporting 896 jobs..

Their mission is to provide a world class facility hosting regional, national and international equestrian events. Their vision statement speaks of providing a unique, bucolic landmark to honor and celebrate the timeless, special bond between mankind and the horse through safe, fair and spirited equestrian competition.

The Virginia Horse Center is operated by a nonprofit foundation that heavily relies on donations to operate and thrive.

Prior to the Covid-19 related business/economic shutdown, they were scheduled to host 22 events between late March and June 10 — the end date of Governor Northam’s Executive Order. During that time, they hoped to show off a slate of improvements to the complex that ranged from installation of large fans and new lighting in the coliseum to a renovation of Barn 1, a new and vastly expanded dressage ring, major aesthetic and green space enhancements, and a complete IT overhaul.

The Center features a 4,000 seat Coliseum that has played host to wrestling matches, dog agility shows and polo matches in addition to horse shows.

“This winter, we had eight contractors here at any one time,” said Horse Center GM Leroy Troxell. “Normally the off season is a slower time but this year we were very busy. It was a nice challenge to work with all the contactors and make sure the projects all progressed within their respective timelines.”

GM Leroy Troxell has overseen a number of recent renovation projects.

Troxell is still fairly new in his GM role though he has spent eleven years at the Horse Center. He took a non-traditional route to land in his current position. “I retired as a Lieutenant from the Department of Corrections after 23 1/2 years but had a family with two daughters going to college, so I needed to keep working,” he said. “I started as a part time security officer here in 2010, went full time a year later, got promoted to Assistant Chief of Security then Chief of Security.” He held that position for four years before taking over as GM in 2019.

“This wasn’t the plan when I started here,” he laughed, “But I enjoy it. It’s a challenge and it’s exciting. Every weekend is something different. Getting to deal with different show managers, different horse breeds and different sets of needs for every event makes it fun.”

Wiley is one of ten outdoor arenas at the Lexington complex.

The Horse Center encompasses 600 acres and features a 4,000 seat Coliseum, a cross country eventing course, four schooling rings, four campgrounds, eight barns, 743 horse stalls and 800 parking spots along with a Welcome Center, concessions building and other amenities.

“This place has a huge economic impact on the local economy,” he said. “Before the Horse Center was here, Lexington was known as a small college town with a few hotels but not much going on. Now, there are lots of jobs, hotels and restaurants. Places like Walmart and Tractor Supply came in after the Horse Center was established and that’s where horse people go now to get supplies and shavings.”

The newest outdoor arena at the complex is located in front of Wiley.

Debbie Easter is President of the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) and Executive Director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA) and is an advocate of Horse Center funding. “The VEA is unique in that we are bringing horse groups together in order to grow the horse industry and agriculture in Virginia,” she said. “The horse industry as a whole has a large economic impact in the Commonwealth and while the VEA is mainly a horse racing organization, we understand the economic importance of other equine activities in the state and want them to flourish.”

A total of 743 stalls are available but if the size of a show dictates, another 300 temporary stalls can be set up.

“If you just look at the economic growth around the Horse Center over the last twenty years you can understand how important horses are to a locality like Lexington,” she continued. “As much business as the Horse Center brings to the region, they have to have funds to continually upgrade so they can stay competitive with similar facilities in surrounding states. Since there are no state funds to help keep them competitive, I think that racing and the VEA need to support the Horse Center and as Historical Horse Racing (HHR) revenues grow, that we are able to do more.”

Besides the Coliseum, there are five other indoor arenas on the property.

Besides the obvious equine-related competitions and shows they host, the Horse Center also looks for non-traditional events to help fill the annual calendar that can bring in additional participants, spectators and revenue. In January, they hosted the BMX Blue Ridge Nationals (bike event) for the first time, and it took place over a three day period. “I think we filled up every hotel within a 75 mile radius,” Troxell said. “We’re always looking for something extra in the wintertime. Canine agility shows bring in 300-400 dogs every January and February. We fielded a tremendous amount of phone calls in the past year from people looking to book shows and some of them are over multiple days. Many of them are new events we’ve never had before.”

With 600 acres, the Horse Center offers a picturesque setting with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.

Location is something Troxell and his staff have going for them. “We are situated nicely in between the north and south and right off major highways,” he said. “You can get here easily from New York and other Mid-Atlantic states. We’re also a good layover spot if we don’t have a show going.”

New 24 foot fans in the Coliseum will provide more of a climate controlled environment.

Even with the great location, Troxell noted there is competition for shows from event sites like the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina. “We’ve been here for over 30 years and continue to build and upgrade to make the Horse Center competitive with everyone else. People like it here because it’s not spread out — everything is close knit and condensed. Between the four campgrounds, you can walk pretty much anywhere on the grounds. We have security around the clock and a set of rules all guests must adhere to. But our philosophy is, we want you to follow the rules and enjoy it here, and once you leave through the front gates, you can’t wait to come back.”

Virginia’s Updated 2020 Horse Racing Event Schedule

The recent Covid-19 pandemic certainly took its toll on the early spring Point-to-Point and sanctioned steeplechase meets scheduled in March, April and May, but as talk heats up about re-entry into a “new normal”, light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Plenty of equine racing action is scheduled in the Commonwealth beginning in June and extending all the way through November. Whether we are able to run our scheduled races  will depend how quickly Governor Northam relaxes the Covid-19 restrictions.  (As of May 1st, it is still unclear when we will be racing in Virginia again. Ongoing talks with the Administration will determine if the scheduled racing at Middleburg and The Gold Cup will be happen. If allowed to go forward both meets likely will be run without spectators. Updated information will be posted as soon as we receive it.)

The first sanctioned event on the revised slate is the Middleburg Spring Races, Virginia’s oldest steeplechase. Established in 1921, the 100th running will take place Saturday June 13 at Glenwood Park. Middleburg’s traditional spring date had been the third Saturday in April. For additional race details, go to

Deposit was one of two sons of Gio Ponti to win allowance races at Great Meadow on the 2019 Gold Cup under card. Photo by Douglas Lees.

The 95th running of the Virginia Gold Cup Races are now scheduled two weeks later at Great Meadow in The Plains on Saturday June 27. Originally scheduled for May 2 in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby simulcast, the new date will not feature “Run for the Roses” betting since that has been pushed back to September 5. The Gold Cup traditionally has drawn 70,000 people at its annual spring renewal on the first Saturday in May. Tickets are on sale at

A trio of Point-to-Point meets were cancelled — the Piedmont Fox Hounds, Orange County Hounds and Loudon Hunt — but three were rescheduled. The Middleburg Point-to-Point is now June 7 followed by the Old Dominion Hounds on September 12 and the Blue Ridge Hunt on September 19.

Menacing Dennis (ridden by Shane Crimin) and Feisty (ridden by Jacob Roberts) compete in the Orange County Point-to-Points’s Open Hurdle in 2019. Photo by Douglas Lees.

Pari-mutuel thoroughbred racing is back for a six week stand at Colonial Downs beginning July 23. The 18-day season will continue through August 29 every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5:30 PM. In its “Racing Revival” comeback last summer, 90% of the races were contested over the Secretariat Turf Course, widest grass surface in the country. An annual controlled burn of the turf oval took place March 30. Virginia Derby Day, the annual season highlight, will close out the meet on the 29th and feature four grass stakes. In addition to the Grade 3 Derby, the Virginia Oaks, Kitten’s Joy and Rosie’s Stakes will be carded that evening.

#6 Charmn Charlie Ray, who leads early, went on to win the first race back at Colonial Downs last August after a six year absence. Photo courtesy of Coady Photography.

Harness racing will return to the Shenandoah County Fair with four programs on September 2 – 5. The sport has a 100-plus year history at the Fairgrounds in Woodstock. The Shenandoah Downs pari-mutuel meet will follow at the same venue from September 18 – October 17. Racing will take place Fridays at 3:30 PM and Saturdays at 2 PM. A special card is also planned for Sunday October 4. The annual $300,000 Virginia Harness “Day of Champions” program will be held October 3.

The fifth annual  Shenandoah Downs pari-mutuel harness meet will be held in Woodstock this fall.

A four-pack of sanctioned steeplechase events will round out the fall calendar. The Foxfield races, located just outside of Charlottesville, kick it off on Sunday October 4. Tickets and details are at The Middleburg Fall races are up next on Saturday October 10 with the International Gold Cup card two weeks later on Saturday October 24. The Montpelier Hunt Races, located four miles west of the Town of Orange, close out the 2020 calendar on Saturday November 7. Tickets and more details are at

Online Bidding To Be Offered At Future Fasig-Tipton Sales

The following appeared on The Racing Biz website.

Fasig-Tipton will offer online bidding at all its future live auctions, the company announced today. The platform will be available for Fasig-Tipton’s next scheduled auction, the Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale, to be held June 29-30 in Timonium, Maryland.

“The addition of online bidding to our live auctions is a service we are pleased to offer,” said Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning. “At no other time has this service been more crucial or needed. As we all work to conduct business in the current COVID-19 environment of adjusted social norms, online bidding ensures the best possible marketplace for our buyers and sellers in 2020. Looking beyond 2020, we envision this service being an integral component of all future auctions.”

Hip 150, a son of Jump Start, brought a top bid of $130,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Fall Yearling sale. Photo by The Racing Biz.

As an additional service to buyers, the company will also further expand its long-established phone bidding program for the remainder of 2020. The service allows prospective buyers – who are not on site at an auction – to bid on horses through a member of Fasig-Tipton’s staff.

Fasig-Tipton will also launch a timed, online only auction platform at a future date, when appropriate. The platform will complement the company’s live auction lineup, offering buyers and sellers additional transaction opportunities that fall outside of the traditional live auction calendar.

“In the world that we live in, companies need to be flexible and willing to adapt,” continued Browning. “Fasig-Tipton will always seek to be innovative and ready to adjust our sales models to best serve the marketplace.”

On Line Betting In Virginia Up 9.3% For First Quarter; 5 U.S. Tracks Still Running

While tracks, OTBs and locally — Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums — began shutting down throughout the month of March, Virginia-based horseplayers had only one wagering option left as effects from Covid-19 took a toll on the sport. Four on-line betting partner companies continued to operate and display available product, which diminished greatly though, as March rolled into April.

Despite less tracks to wager of late, first quarter handle from the four combined is up 9.3% over the same three month period a year ago. In March alone, handle was up 2.5% at $7,587,1275 compared with $7,430,656 in 2019. TVG was top performer for the month with $3,927,960 in handle while Twinspires was next with $2,217,722. Xpressbet took third spot with $1,126,698 and NYRABets, newest of the four, handled $314,793 from Virginia residents.

Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Vinton closed on March 16 due to Covid-19.

For the quarter, $21,735,026 was wagered versus $19,880,582 a year ago. And that 2019 figure was 5.34% over 2018’s three month tally. TVG is trending highest of the four so far with handle up 17% over 2019. They have accepted $11,482,621 in bets in 2020 compared with $9,744,527 a year ago. NYRABets, lowest performer of the four, still is up 84% with a handle of $818,615 this year versus $445,004. Xpress Bet’s numbers are up 4.5% while Twin Spires is off 6%.

“Derby” Bill Watson is a former Colonial Downs on-camera handicapper and his selections have been heard for 20 years on the weekly “Off To The Races” radio show, powered now by The Racing Biz. He is also an avid horseplayer. Watson finds the on line play can offer a similar experience as spending a day playing horses with his friends at an OTB. “Facebook allows small groups to enjoy the sport in the same framework of a table at the track or OTB with a more focused limited wagering experience,” he said. “A few friends of mine will all share text exchanges back and forth as we bet the day’s races on line to see who likes which horses. We’ll compare notes with each other that way.”

Buckets OTB in Chesapeake is one of four VA-Horseplay sites in the Commonwealth.

“I think the quarantine has driven some sports watchers & bettors to horse wagering,” he added. “Oaklawn is the top track running thru Arkansas Derby Day on May 2. They have solid 10-12 race cards.” All sources handle on Oaklawn’s card April 11 was $16.9 million, a new record.  Other U.S. tracks currently running include Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, Will Rogers Downs and Fonner Park.

On line handle may up but Historical Horse Racing (HHR) wagering and horse race simulcasting numbers (at four Rosie’s sites and the four VA-Horseplay OTBs) is off dramatically due to Covid-19. Those sites shut down March 16 and comparison numbers to the month prior highlight the absence of play. HHR handle for February was $205,324,358 while in March with just half the days, it was $103,652,921. A total of 2,150 terminals are in operation at locations in New Kent, Richmond, Hampton and Vinton.

OTB handle in February was $3,216,482 while the March total was $1,637,297. The Buckets OTB site in Chesapeake was the top performer with $357,457 in handle while the Breakers OTB in Henrico was next with $332,885.

Virginia Certified Horses Join Polo Pony Population At Powhatan Plantation In King George, Virginia

Powhatan Plantation in King George is one of many Virginia farms/training centers that is wrapping their arms around the Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA) and Virginia Harness Horse Association (VHHA) Certified Residency bonus initiative programs, which bring young horses into the state to be raised for a six month period of time before they begin racing.

Located 16 miles east of Fredericksburg and three miles west of Route 301, Powhatan is a 1,000 acre farm that was built in 1829. The property was purchased in 1952 by Raymond Guest, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, who owned, raced and bred thoroughbred horses in England, Ireland, France and the U.S.. Formerly a major agricultural center that traded with ships from England from its dock on the Rappahannock River, Guest designed and laid out a farm upon purchase based on his interest in thoroughbreds.

His racing resume is impressive. Guest is one of three horse owners in history to have won both the Epsom Derby (with Larkspur in ’62) and the Grand National at Aintree (steeplechase with L’Escargot in ’75). In the States, his Tom Rolfe won the Preakness Stakes in 1965 — with jockey Ron Turcotte aboard — and was named American Champion 3 Year Old Male Horse that year. In 1958, Guest served as President of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. He was a past Chairman of the National Steeplechase & Hunt and also played polo in the “Golden Age of Polo” and was inducted into that sport’s Hall of Fame.

Guest passed away in 1991 and his son Achille now lives in the property’s main house which is currently undergoing renovations. The Plantation property itself includes a 3/4 mile oval training track, a main training barn, broodmare barn and a yearling barn. 600 of the acres feature well fenced pastures and paddocks. A long airstrip that divides the expansive complex allows horse owners to fly in. There are currently 210 horses on the grounds now, all of which are polo horses except for 13 which are recent standardbred arrivals courtesy of that breed’s new residency program.

Holly Layne is Farm Manager at the Potomac Plantation. A Charlottesville native, she has been there three years now and stays quite busy boarding professional polo horses from top ten players and teams. In the past couple months, they have added standardbreds to the mix.

Layne has a staff to tend to the horses and maintain the large property. Her assistant Gena Nelson lives in a house on the grounds. Her son Wyatt and niece Lucy help with cleaning stalls. A team of four maintenance workers do everything like fixing fences, cutting trees, weed eating, mowing, bush hogging, dragging and fixing equipment.

“It’s great to have the extra help here now,” she said. “For a while, it was just Jena and myself. That was it for a long time. We both live at work and work from home so we’re always here.”

When Layne arrived in spring of 2017, there were 36 horses on the grounds. In 2019, that number rose to 300. “That increase is due to a lot of hard work. I always make myself available to owners, network with them and make them feel like their horses are well cared for,” she said. “We have the staff to do it. Every horse is checked after twice a day. We have a hands on approach. It’s a lot of work but every horse on the farm gets touched and eyeballed. They get the best care we can give.”

Layne goes out her way to help owners whether it be sending them pictures and videos of their horses, getting health certificates or providing overnight accommodations for drivers who ship horses in and out. “Positive word of mouth has been the biggest help with advertising Powhatan,” she added. “I stay in contact with the owners. I know who all the horses are and where they are. Owners can contact me any time for whatever their needs are.”

The three years spent at Powhatan have been a learning experience for Layne because she never played polo or even watched a match before arriving in King George. “I grew up riding hunter ponies then started doing speed events like team penning and barrel racing,” she said. “I managed my own farm, bred and raised quarter horses and paints and pretty much worked for myself like most breeders. I do have a variety of experience,” she added. “I’ve come through the ranks and have worked with some really good mentors. There’s been a lot to take in and learn here.”

For more information on the Powhatan Plantation or boarding prices for horses in the thoroughbred and standardbred Certified Residency programs, call 540-775-4434 or e-mail

Here are several other photos from the Powhatan visit.

Virginia-Sired Mr. Buff Named 2019 Horse of the Year

For the past two-weeks, a different Virginia Breeders Awards winner has been announced through this website and via the VTA’s facebook page.  To access the other award winning announcements, scroll back thru the “News” archive. The award recipients were to be recognized during a reception Friday June 19 at Great Meadow. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the awards’ reception has been postponed. A new date will be announced as soon as we have the okay to reschedule.

The final award winner is 2019 Horse of the Year – Mr. Buff.

The 6-year-old Virginia-Sired gelding, who won five black-type stakes last year on the NYRA circuit, is a New York-bred by Friend or Foe who stands at Robin Mellen’s Smallwood Farm in Crozet.

Virginia-Sired Mr. Buff wins his third straight stakes race Feb. 22 at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese.

Owned and bred by Chester and Mary Broman — who have been among New York’s leading breeders for more than 20 years — Mr. Buff won the Jazil, Saginaw, Evan Shipman and Alex Robb Stakes along with the Empire Classic Handicap. He also competed in a pair of Grade I’s — the Clark Stakes at Churchill and the Woodward at Saratoga — and bankrolled $455,750 for the year.

Mr. Buff started off a successful 2019 campaign by winning the Jazil Stakes. Photo by Elsa Lorieul.

The John Kimmel trainee is already 2-for-2 in 2020 and with a February 22 win in the Haynesfield Stakes, saw his earnings soar to $1,051,536. Mr. Buff is out of the graded stakes placed Speightstown mare Speightful Affair, an $80,000 purchase at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February Mixed Sale.

Friend or Foe stands at Robin Mellen’s Smallwood Farm in Crozet.

Although Friend Or Foe never won in graded company, he did earn a title as champion New York-bred 3-year-old colt and ran four triple digit Beyer Speed Figures with a top of 109. The Bromans have continued to send Friend or Foe a few mares every year. So far, from four crops of racing age he has sired 21 foals, 11 of which have started and seven have won, Mr. Buff being the standout.

NSA President Dr. Al Griffin Addresses 2020 Steeplechase Schedule

The following appeared on the website April 8 and is a letter from NSA President Dr. Al Griffin

Dear Steeplechase Family,

The members of the National Steeplechase Association Board of Directors and I hope that you are safe and well in these most difficult of times. None of us have experienced anything like this coronavirus pandemic in our lifetimes. We have all been affected in so many ways by this global crisis. We are small business owners, horse owners, trainers, and race-meet officials. You have questions, we know, and we want to answer them to the extent that we can in a rapidly changing environment. Beginning with this letter, we will keep you abreast of what the NSA is doing, and hoping to do, in the coming weeks and months.

Dr. Al Griffin is President of the National Steeplechase Association.

Our director of racing, Bill Gallo, has been in constant contact with our horsemen and our race meets. He is working diligently to put together a strong, well-balanced schedule for June that serves the needs of as many of our horsemen as possible. He also is working to put together a summer schedule, although the race tracks that play host to our races, especially Saratoga Race Course, have yet to solidify their plans. Like us, these racetracks do not know when they will be able to run and to what extent.

We also recognize that our horsemen, the owners and trainers, are in a difficult financial position with no racing and thus no race purses. They are taking care of their horses and doing so without purse income. We are working to develop a knowledge of the federal relief programs that were recently enacted, and especially the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Our general manager, Peter McGivney, is exploring the program for the NSA, and Communications Director Don Clippinger is evaluating it for his company and other clients. Do not hesitate to call on them if you have questions. Horsemen’s groups have had webinars on the federal programs and have welcomed steeplechase participation.

We also are concerned for our jockeys, who depend upon racing for a great part of their income. While we have postponed some of our meets, all National Hunt races in England and Ireland have been canceled for the rest of the season. We also have a very promising crop of young riders coming along, some of them third- or fourth-generation steeplechase participants. The loss of almost all point to point races this season has deprived these very capable young riders of the valuable experience necessary to graduate to the NSA apprentice ranks, despite our best efforts to create these opportunities at race meets that also eventually had to cancel. We are still trying to create opportunities within the context of a very limited schedule.

Our race meets also have suffered. To date, we have had 11 spring cancellations, and those meets have fixed and continuing expenses that must be paid. The race meets that have postponed until June are confronting unanswerable questions. Will they be able to run? Will their volunteers be available? Will their usual crowds attend. We also are concerned for our race meets’ charitable beneficiaries; many of them depend on the meets’ contributions to balance their budgets. Several of them are hospital systems, and they are under great professional and financial stress now as they treat the growing number of patients afflicted with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There are a lot of questions and no easy answers.

What has brought me great joy during these tumultuous times is the enthusiasm, dedication and understanding displayed by everyone in the NSA constituency as we have tried to re-invent this Spring season on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. This task will continue to be challenging, but the steeplechase community is an extended family, and we will attack it with perseverance and resolve, both for what remains of the Spring and Summer schedule and beyond.

I urge all of you to take the necessary steps to stay safe. Please observe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for social distancing and, more recently, wearing face masks when out in public. Please stay healthy, and we look forward to seeing you on that bright day when steeplechase racing resumes.

Dr. Al Griffin Jr.

MATCH Series For 2020 Canceled; Stakes Were Scheduled For Aug. 15 At Colonial Downs

The following speared on the MATCH Series website on April 8, 2020. It was written by Tom LaMarra. Colonial Downs had been scheduled to host a round of five $100,000 MATCH Series stakes races on Saturday August 15. 

The partners in the highly acclaimed Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH), during an April 7 meeting, agreed to cancel the 2020 edition of the Series given the ongoing uncertainty of racing schedules and concerns about available purse money in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown.

The Series, which has established itself as a popular part of the Mid-Atlantic racing calendar, was set to debut for its third straight season with a split schedule at Laurel Park and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on April 18. But live racing in the region is on hold for the foreseeable future, and with the Series stakes scheduled for Preakness weekend also up in the air, there appeared to be few good options.

Page McKenney wins a MATCH Series race in 2018 at Monmouth.

“Obviously, we are all disappointed, but it was the right thing to do,” said MATCH Series creator and THA Chairman Alan M. Foreman. “No one wanted to compromise the quality of the event and the brand we are building. MATCH is a luxury, and the monies contributed by the horsemen’s organizations, racetracks and breeders organizations to support the Series can be better used for the benefit of day-to-day racing when live racing returns. We have the template ready to go for 2021 and will be back bigger and better than ever.”

The 2020 Series, the schedule for which was developed in a spirit of cooperation among racing stakeholders in six states, was expected to the best since the Series returned in 2018. Two new partner tracks who were members of the Series when it debuted in 1997–Colonial Downs and Charles Town–along with their respective horsemen’s associations and breeders’ organizations, joined the fold; a fifth division was added; and the Series was expanded from five to seven big-event racing programs.

The MATCH Series indicated April 7 that it hopes the Series can return in 2021, using the 2020 schedule as the template for 2021.

The MATCH Series is an innovative regional racing series, and the only one of its kind in horse racing, that combines rich stakes and bonuses for participating owners and trainers who compete over a seven-month span. Horses competing in MATCH earn points based on participation and order of finish in each series race, and the leading point earners in each of the series divisions, as well as the overall owner and trainer point leaders, win lucrative bonuses.

The Series partners are the Charles Town HBPA, Delaware THA, Maryland THA, New Jersey THA, Pennsylvania THA, Pennsylvania HBPA and Virginia HBPA; Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, the Maryland Jockey Club (Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course), Monmouth Park, Parx Racing and Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course; and the Delaware Certified Thoroughbred Program, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey, Virginia Thoroughbred Association and West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association.