Behind The Scenes Work Continues At Colonial In Preparation For August 8th Opening Day
With less than five weeks to go until live thoroughbred racing returns to Virginia, things are ramping up at the New Kent oval. Behind the scenes work continues in anticipation of the stable area opening July 25th and the first race going to post on August 8th.
Dan Waits, Executive Director of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America, recently visited Colonial Downs to get a first hand look at the facility. In the next week or so, Waits will select a chaplain to service backstretch workers who will soon be on the grounds to support hundreds of horses that will compete.
“A good chaplain makes the environment better for everyone,” said Waits. “They are a friend to all. They walk the backstretch and stable area every day to check on the well being of everyone associated with the horses. The chaplain is a trusted person that serves many duties . No two days are ever the same.”
Track chaplains offer jockey and gate prayers, help provide pantry and clothing items, offer guidance both one on one and in group forums, provide a listening ear, host events for workers and their families, work with local clergy, provide transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores, establish community relations and serve as an overall support system.
“A chaplain may pick a night to gather for a service in the horsemen’s building or track kitchen and follow with a meal, or even take a group for bible study at a local restaurant,” added Waits.
The Racetrack Chaplaincy services 47 different racetracks around the country with 37 chaplains. “Our job is to support the local chaplaincy with proper training and resources, and serve as a pastor to all the chaplains to make sure they are healthy and their needs are met,” said Waits. “Of all the ministries I’ve served in my career, this one has been the most fulfilling.”
Allison De Luca is the Director of Racing at Colonial and her job is to attract horses and stables to compete during the five week season. Her goal is to offer safe, competitive racing for both fans on track and those playing via simulcast around the country. She has an identical role at Tampa Bay Downs, which just concluded their season this past weekend. De Luca arrived in New Kent mid-week and is busy setting up the racing office and reaching out to horsemen. With an average of $500,000 in daily purses, a $1,000 participation incentive to owners of horses finishing fifth or below, and a $300 trainer’s bonus for every start, she has solid selling points to relay.
“We have quite a few stall applications now and they are still coming in,” she said. “In my travels to see horsemen, they have definitely shown interest. I think people really liked racing at Colonial in the past and they’re happy it’s coming back. In addition to the amazing turf course, I hope horsemen know we run dirt races too. Both racing surfaces are excellent.”
DeLuca has been at Tampa Bay Downs since 2006 and sees similarities between it and Colonial. “The racing surfaces at Tampa are unbelievable too. Horsemen love it. The track itself has an almost old fashioned feel to it. It’s small, friendly and the action is close up. And Tampa management cares about racing. You can see that at Colonial with people like John (Marshall) and Jill (Byrne),” she added. “They are gung-ho for racing.”
Former Colonial Downs trainer Carlos Garcia also visited the track recently. The 78-year-old native of Argentina was not preparing to send a string of horses to compete however. He was coming up with a game plan to accommodate other people’s horses in his new job as Stall Superintendent.
Since retiring from racing in 2014, Garcia has served as Director of Stabling at Tampa Bay Downs and also works a part time security position during sporting events at Amalie Arena to help satisfy his passion for sports.
In 44 years of training, Garcia’s horses made 8,389 starts, reached the winners circle 1,354 times and earned $25.9 million in purse monies. Long time Colonial Downs followers will remember his Action Andy, who won the 2011 Kitten’s Joy and 2012 Da Hoss Stakes. Baltimore Bob, who competed in both the Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby in 2008, provided Garcia with a spot in the Commonwealth’s highest profile races.
“I always loved the country atmosphere of Colonial Downs,” he said. “It’s not a cement jungle like you find at other places. Horses do well here and the purses are great now. I’m so glad I was hired to work at the track this summer.”
It took a while for Garcia to transition away training, but he is adjusting well now. “I love working at the race tracks. I get to see a lot of familiar faces and especially enjoy talking to the grooms and hotwalkers. I consider myself to be a people person,” he continued, “But even more so, I’m a detail person. If I can use my experience to plant seeds and help make them better at their jobs, then I’m happy.”
Colonial Downs will usher in its first thoroughbred racing season since 2013 on August 8th. A five week meet will continue thru September 7th with racing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 5 PM. The Grade 3 Virginia Derby is scheduled for Saturday August 31st. More details are available at colonialdowns.com.