Annual Controlled Burn Of Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course Took Place March 30

At a time when everyone is seeking signs of a return to normalcy in the months ahead, Colonial Downs, in conjunction with the New Kent Fire Department and Virginia Department of Forestry, conducted a controlled burn of its Secretariat Turf Course Monday.

Monday’s controlled burn at Colonial Downs began in the far turn.

The burn began at 4 PM under sunny skies and breezy conditions. This annual burn helps prepare and nurture the country’s widest grass racing surface for a six-week summer thoroughbred season which is scheduled to begin July 23 and continue through August 29.

Brush trucks and New Kent Fire Department members doused flames.

The burn itself takes dead “cover” off the turf in a rapid manner and allows it to grow back more plush, green and safe within weeks if not days. The controlled burn strategy is used as opposed to trimming, because the fire drives nutrients back into the soil. This method yields benefits over cutting the grass.

Colonial Downs VP of Racing Jill Byrne stands in front of a blackened turf course.

“The dormant leaf that sits atop the Bermuda grass is dead and that’s what burns,” said Colonial Downs VP of Racing Jill Byrne. “If we were to cut and blow that leaf, it would take ten days and we’d lose nutrients.”

The New Kent Fire Department worked in conjunction with the Department of Forestry.

The burn took several hours and was overseen by Colonial Down’s Racing Operations Manager Jeff Wingrove. The New Kent Fire Department supplied brush trucks which were positioned both inside the turf course and outside the track’s perimeter to prevent flames from spreading. A crew of fire swatters was also on hand to ensure the fire stayed within its planned boundaries.

Racing Operations Manager Jeff Wingrove (left) with Track Superintendent Ken Brown.

Monday’s burn took place on Secretariat’s 50th birthday. The iconic Virginia-bred was born March 30, 1970 at The Meadow Farm in Doswell.

The 2019 controlled burn was held on April 16. A milder winter enabled the ’20 burn to take place earlier.

Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course is 180 feet wide and at its outermost part, is 1 1/8 miles around. Ten different rail positions and lanes are available over the surface to maximize its use during the meet. It is divided into an inner turf course and an outer turf course. Last year, 130 of the 144 races contested were held on grass.

Monday’s burn started in the far turn and went in a clockwise direction.

Here are additional pics of Monday’s spectacular sight in New Kent.