THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO…

Hmmm…

THE ENTRY BOX. The first big question to surface at Colonial during opening week was “where did everybody go?” Not the fans, the horses.

Colonial has long been known for large 9, 10 and 11 horse fields due in part to giving “cheaper” horses an opportunity to run on the grass. But entries this year have been lighter with six horse fields showing up over the past three days.

The reason might well be the very same reason that always drives traffic in this business – money. Simply put, there is more competition this year in the Mid-Atlantic than ever and Colonial Downs is both the furthest from the horse populations in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and, unfortunately, also offering the lowest purses in the region.

The latter is an unfortunate reality brought on by three years of declining wagering and limited opportunities to expand handle and purses. The stakeholders in Virginia have worked hard to expand the racing calendar to attract quality stables and to try and have a positive impact on Virginia breeding. Problem is while we have held the line at 40 days, total wagers and thus purses have declined almost 30% since 2007 and CLN’s purses have trended in the same direction. Our friends in the state government haven not felt compelled to help us fix this problem.

Considering the high cost of shipping horses these days, a number of folks look to be staying home and looking for opportunities to race in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Those with Virginia-breds are anxious to run here in the Commonwealth where the sagging purses are bolstered by the 60% Owners Bonus in open races.

If the trend continues, Virginia’s stakeholders may well have to reinvent their wheel yet again to stay competitive in an ever changing Mid-Atlantic landscape.

WHAT? NO VA-BRED WINNER. Tuesday, Day 4 of live racing at CLN, no Va-bred won a race. That is a rare occurrence during the Open Bonus era that started some six years ago or so…I believe it happened a few times last year, but it’s rare. In the first three days, nine Virginia-breds crossed the wire first in New Kent as 81 Va-breds have entered the first 58 open races.

TOCCOA. When the 100% open bonus first came into play at CLN, folks joked that Va-bred horses would literally be pulled out of the field and prepped for the annual summer meet.

Enter Toccoa.

This Virginia-bred may not languish in a field at her home at Eagle Point Farm in Ashland from August to May, but it’s safe to say she is clearly focused on Colonial Downs and Colonial Downs only. That focus may well give her the record for most starts at the home racetrack.

By Purple Comet, out of Misquinto by Magic Prospect, nine-year-old Toccoa has made 28 starts for trainer Karen Dennehy. She has five first, five seconds and five thirds with $91,689 to her name over her now seven year racing career.

She has made 20 starts at CLN prior to yesterday, and we speculate that 21 will be a record. She hasn’t run anywhere but Colonial Downs since 2007, making 12 starts, winning one with four seconds and four thirds.

Yes, there are horses for courses, and yesterday Toccoa ran big stalking the pace, grabbing a narrow edge at the sixteenth poll and hanging tough ultimately losing the big purse by a nose. Add another second to her stellar resume at CLN.

THE GRAND SLAM OF GRASS. The slam is no more. The Grand Slam of Grass, which offered a $5 million bonus to any horse who swept the Turf Cup, Virginia Derby, Secretariat at Arlington, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, has been discontinued.

I surmise it died due to a lack of interest. It was too difficult to accomplish, and simply didn’t capture the attention of owners or trainers for various geographic, financial and chronological reasons. I suggested it needed to be reinvented last year for a variety of reasons, and maybe it will reappear later in a better/revised format.

SHEIKH OUT AT THE TOP. It’s so hard to make money with horses these days that even the powerful Dubai sheikhs are having a tough go. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s breeding operation in Australia has posted another heavy loss, finishing last year $27 million in the red as it cuts jobs to boost its bottom line.

Darley Australia, whose stable includes Group 1 winner Lonhro, posted an improvement on the previous year’s $246 million loss, according to the latest accounts lodged with the corporate regulator. Sheikh Mohammed is the Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai. His personal wealth fell by a third last year to $12 billion, according to Forbes.

Evidently, when it rains, it really does pour… — Glenn Petty