The Virginia Derby takes place at Colonial Downs this weekend. The local racetrack hopes that the biggest horse race of the year in Virginia will attract 10,000 people, the largest crowd in Colonial Downs history. What steps are are they taking to ensure success?
“All year long you work for the Virginia Derby,” said Darrel Wood, Marketing Director at Colonial Downs, the 607-acre horse racetrack facility outside of Richmond in New Kent. This Saturday, Virginia will welcome the best horses, jockeys, and trainers throughout the country, hosting them at Colonial Downs in what Wood said by phone is the track’s biggest day “by far.”
The 14th annual derby takes place at Colonial Downs, which features 1.25 mile dirt track, the country’s second-largest course. The first eight races, as well as the Derby, will be held on the facility’s turf track; the final six races will run on the dirt track, under the lights. With a winning prize of $600,000, Colonial Downs’ 14 horse gates should nearly fill with the country’s best equestrian competitors. If so, Wood said that this year’s derby “would be the largest in [its] history.”
It is this potential that synchronizes well with Colonial Downs’ wish to, as Wood put, make the Virginia Derby “one of the top 20 social events on the calendar” in Richmond. To help achieve this goal the racetrack has planned several events to encourage the public to attend, especially those not familiar with horse racing.
Near the grounds’ picnic area will be the Trackside Party Zone where, for $30, attendees will have refreshments, food, and live entertainment at their disposable. In addition, Colonial Downs has partnered with Hooters to create a BYOB “Hoot on the Hill” area near the racetrack’s first turn where, for $10, patrons can bring their own beverages and food along with tents and coolers. This part of the track, said Wood, “has never been used” in prior events.
For those who wish only to watch the 12 races, general admission into the 127,000 square-foot grandstand will be $5, and children under the age of 12 are admitted for free.
Also among the festivities will be the Fancy Hat contest, hosted by Lite 98 radio DJ’s. The categories will be Best Home-made, The Derby Male, Most Outrageous, Most Eco Friendly, The Southern Belle, Best Virginia Theme, and The True Couture. Winners in each category will receive a prize sponsored by The Virginia Lottery.
To make the event more accessible to the public, the races will begin at 5pm. This is meant to make driving on I-64 less burdensome because of beach traffic, as well as to hold the event during a cooler part of the day. On highs estimated to be in the low 80’s on Saturday, Wood says “that’s psyched us.”
To make first-time visitors feel more at ease with the facilities and overall racing experience, individuals will be on hand to inform visitors on how to place bets throughout the event.
All of these attributes make Darrell Wood and Colonial Downs excited about the coming Saturday. “We have the biggest race in the country this week,” said Wood.