After several years of holding horse racing on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday schedule, Colonial Downs is moving its 2023 summer campaign schedule, with Saturday reserved for big events.
The track is a traditional spot for pari-mutuel wagers in a state where Virginia sports betting has become entrenched over the past couple of years.
The move will be a first at Colonial Downs under new owners Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI). CDI is known for its signature event, the Kentucky Derby.
Schedule Change Under Churchill Downs Ownership
In February, CDI announced it had acquired Colonial Downs and all six Rosie’s Gaming Emporium historical horse racing facilities in Virginia.
Colonial Downs received approval for the new schedule last week during a Virginia Racing Commission meeting.
The schedule will feature 27 days of racing for nine weeks from July 13 to Sept. 9, with racing every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 1:30 p.m. The campaign will end with the 20th running of the $300,000 Grade 3 Virginia Derby on Sept. 9. Past Virginia Derby races were held on a Tuesday.
The 2022 Colonial Downs schedule saw 1,382 horses from 321 trainers compete in the nine-week session. Approximately 40,000 fans attended the races.
CDI Tackling Staffing For Saturday Events
With the change to Saturday racing, Jack Sours, Vice President of Gaming for CDI, raised concerns about larger crowds and additional staffing needed to support the increase.
“We have to staff the place to accommodate large Saturday crowds and we know that’s not going to be an easy challenge,” Sours said. “We’re all aware of staffing issues these days but we’re committed to overcoming that challenge.
“We want to get our feet on the ground with this new schedule, then can always come back with further adjustments. The final consideration is the opportunity to host corporate outings on Thursdays and Fridays. We have found success with that piece at our other properties. It will give us a chance to expose racing to a new audience and drive attendance.”
In addition to live horse racing, Colonial Downs racetrack has 551 Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines, similar to slot machines in physical casinos; there are no online casinos in Virginia. A total of 2,606 HHR machines are in Virginia spread among six Rosie's Gaming Emporium locations. These machines are on pace to handle $3.9 billion this year, a 25% increase over 2022, Sours said.
Rosie's plans to open two more HHR locations in Virginia in 2023, which Sours says could result in additional race dates in 2024.
Virginia Gambling Scene Keeps Growing
Those HHR locations are one component of a gaming market which also includes online Virginia sports betting apps available statewide.
“This will allow us to add more dates and possibly race over the entire weekend instead of just Saturdays,” Sours said. “We may even explore evening racing in the future, but we need to understand the entire operation first before we can even think about that.”
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