By Nick Hahn

Opening day at Colonial Downs comes a week earlier this year when live racing returns on Friday, June 5th. The following day, Colonial Downs will be open for the first time ever on the same day as a Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes. The forty day meet has five fewer days than in 2008.

Early nominations for Colonial’s two signature races, the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) and $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) closed Wednesday, May 27th. Emerging turf colts have used The Virginia Derby as a springboard to future success. Its past winners have contributed to their resumes well.

Gio Ponti (’08 – pictured on outside) continues to collect graded stake turf wins. Red Giant (’07) has the world record at a mile and a quarter on the turf. Nobody was better than (’06) Go Between on the synthetics after a solid turf career. English Channel (’05) made us believe that the impossible 4-race Jacobs Investments $5 million Grand Slam might actually be attained. Kitten’s Joy (’04) provided the inspiration for the Grand Slam. Even Silver Tree (’03) stubbornly continues to gather healthy checks as a 9 year old.

Despite being down in nominations, Tyler Pickelsimer, Racing Secretary at Colonial Downs believes this year’s class is capable of meeting those expectations.

“We’re in good shape quality-wise,” said Pickelsimer. “We had fewer nominations (16) than last year but it should be a strong race.”

With many three year old turf stakes being suspended or moved to the fall, this year’s three year old turf class is broadbased. From the Triple Crown, there’s Chocolate Candy, Summer Bird, Take the Points and Atomic Rain. Among the 49 nominations are winners in significant turf stakes this spring including El Crespo, Affirmatif, Orthodox, Sleepless Knight, Battle of Hastings and Giant Oak, although he will likely stay in the Midwest at Arlington Park.

Surely the sentimental choice to start is Nicanor, Barbaro’s full brother who won by over 15 lengths on the Delaware Park turf on May 13th. Barbaro was a Virginia Derby nomination in 2006. At the time, trainer Michael Matz “wanted to keep his options open”, at least considering to return Barbaro to the turf. Within a month of Barbaro’s Preakness his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson did make the Colonial Downs winner’s circle with Colonial Turf Cup winner’s Showing Up (’06). In addition to Nicanor, Lael has nominated Cozy Lion, a Virginia-bred of Ned Evans trained by Barclay Tagg.

The Colonial Turf Cup is Saturday, June 20th with the Virginia Derby following on July 18th.

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