Two examples of Virginia’s vast influence on Thoroughbred racing in America will be on display in the main events at Churchill Downs this weekend with Virginia-bred Out for a Spin in the Longines Kentucky Oaks and Roadster carrying on the legacy of the late owner-breeder Edward P. Evans’s in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, just as preparations ramp up for the return of live racing at Colonial Downs outside Richmond, Va., this summer.
Colonial’s rebirth has stemmed many years of bleeding for Thoroughbred racing and breeding in Virginia, which has plummeted from 954 live foals in 1998 to just 29 live foals reported thus far for 2018, a calamitous decline for a state that produced the likes of Secretariat, Sir Gaylord, Hill Prince, Bowl of Flowers, Cicada, Sword Dancer, Tom Rolfe, Arts and Letters, Fort Marcy, Riva Ridge, Pleasant Colony, and Evans’s homebred Quality Road, who is now among the leading sires in the country and accounts for the Kentucky Oaks favorite, Bellafina.
Quality Road also is the sire of Roadster, who captured last month’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and is 5-to-1 on the morning line for the run for the roses. Interestingly, Roadster’s dam, Ghost Dancing, also was bred by Evans, who died in 2010, leaving behind a powerful breed-to-race program that delivered more 200 stakes winners. Ghost Dancing was one of them, with her biggest achievement coming at Colonial Downs in her final start when she captured the 2008 Oakley Stakes for Virginia-breds.
Ghost Dancing was bred in Kentucky by the Stone Farm of Arthur Hancock III, but Hancock himself has deep roots in Virginia himself through his great-grandfather, Richard, who founded Ellerslie Farm in Charlottesville, Va., and his grandfather, Arthur, who managed Ellerslie before establishing the iconic Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.
Out for a Spin, the upset winner of the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland last month, was bred in Virginia by the William M. Backer Revocable Trust.
Colonial has been shuttered since 2013 but new owners and legislative approval of historical racing machines, similar to those fueling the success at Oaklawn Park and Kentucky Downs, have quickly breathed new life for Virginia’s place in the Thoroughbred world.
“It’s been amazing the constant support we are getting around Virginia but really throughout the country as well,” said Jill Byrne, a Virginia native and former Breeders’ Cup official who has returned home to take the reins as Colonial’s vice president of racing. “Everyone seems to be rooting for us. I think it’s been like the feel-good story of the year with a track returning, and especially in a place like Virginia which has so much history.”
Live racing at Colonial will return with 15 cards from Aug. 8 through Sept. 7. Next year, the slate will double to 30 dates.
“We have received a lot of interest from trainers around the country about running here,” Byrne said of Colonial, which is able to place an emphasis on turf racing with an extra-wide, 1 1/8-mile course. “Some of them plan on stabling at Colonial but others will ship in, maybe for a weekend, so I think we will have a wide range of participation, not just from the Mid-Atlantic, but from all over in what should make for a very exciting first season back.”