Big Weekend for Virginia Racing Coming Up

The Virginia Equine Alliance has a big weekend coming up and hope racing fans take advantage of the great weather and great racing slated both Saturday at Laurel and on Sunday at Great Meadow.

Sunday’s (Sept. 20) Virginia Downs thoroughbred event will feature 6 pari-mutuel thoroughbred races, tailgating & wagering. There are two ways for VTA members to enjoy the festivities — by spending the afternoon in the VTA tent where there will be finger food, a cash bar & nearby wagering machines. The other option is to purchase a $100 reserved rail side tailgating spot. These are in limited supply and as of Thursday (Sept. 17) afternoon, only 29 remain. If you want to purchase a spot, call Mary Tarr at the Fauquier SPCA at 540-788-9000, ext. 202 by close of business Friday. All admission/tailgating monies go to the Fauquier SPCA.

horsemens tent at great meadow

The day prior (Sept. 19), the Grade 2, $400,000 Virginia Derby and Grade 2, $250,000 Colonial Turf Cup, will both be held at Laurel Park (Laurel, Maryland) with slightly different names. Renamed the “Commonwealth Derby” and “Commonwealth Cup”, the two are being relocated to Maryland for just this year and are being sponsored by the Virginia Equine Alliance so that both stakes can keep their graded status.

Neither was contested last year (due to the situation at Colonial Downs) and if a stakes race is not held in two straight years, it loses its graded status. Anticipating that the stakes will be back in Virginia in 2016, the VEA felt it was worth the expenditure to keep the quality of the  races in tact instead of starting over as ungraded events next year.

Fields for both the “Derby” and “Cup” were drawn Wednesday — the Derby, for three year olds on turf, drew eight horses while the Cup drew seven. Early Derby favorite is Force The Pass, a million dollar winner already in his career. The Alan Goldberg trainee is fresh off wins in the  Belmont Derby (Gr. I) and the Penn Mile (Gr. III). He most recently was third as a beaten favorite in the Secretariat Stakes (Gr. I). An intriguing challenger will be Go Around, owned and bred by three time Virginia Derby winning owner/breeder Peter Vegso, who has won Derbies with Go Between (2006), Silver Tree (2003) and Orchard Park (2002). Go Between is pictured below getting a post-Derby shower in the Colonial Downs winners circle.
go between

The “Cup” field includes a pair of million dollar earners — Mr. Speaker, winner of the 2014 Belmont Derby (Gr. I) and Lexington Stakes (Gr. III), and Up With Birds, victor in the 2013 Grade I Jamaica Stakes and runner up in the $1,000,000 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine. “Shug” McGaughey trains Mr. Speaker while Graham Motion conditions Up With Birds.

The Derby has been carded as Laurel’s ninth race Saturday (5:11 PM) while the “Cup” is the fourth (2:42 PM)

The Virginia Derby was first held in 1998. The stakes earned a Grade 3 rank in 2004 and jumped to a Grade 2 level in 2006. Top nationally known horses like Kitten’s Joy, English Channel, Go Between and Gio Ponti have won the Derby in their three year old campaigns. Purse for the race peaked in 2005 at $1,000,000 when it was part of the Grand Slam of Grass series. The most recent edition in 2013, won by War Dancer, featured a $500,000 purse. Trainer Dale Romans and Bill Mott each have three Derby wins while jockey Edgar Prado collected a “hat trick” of winning Derby rides from 2002-2004.