NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Colonial Downs launched its 2022 horse racing season on Monday, July 11 — with the motto “More racing, more fun” — as directors prepare for the biggest scale season they’ve had to date. This year the team is offering 27 race dates.

Jill Byrne, Vice President of Racing Operations with Colonial Downs says after years of fighting the pandemic — staff, athletes, and spectators are all ready to be back together as a community.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for all year to get everybody back here with the pandemic over people are out,” Byrne said. “Really just enjoying regular life again.”

According to Byrne, many of the horses that compete in Colonial Downs races often go on to race in prestigious, large-scale events like the Kentucky Derby. After four consecutive years of these summer races, Colonial Downs racing events only continue to grow each year.

“There’s no other sporting event you can go to at no cost and get this close to the athletes and see such fun action,” Byrne said.

Music, laughs, cheers, and conversation could be heard across the venue at Colonial Downs Raceway. 8News spoke with attendees to hear why they’re excited to be about the festivities.

Barbara Brown came to the opening day with her brother and mother. She says her experience surpassed expectations.

“Horse racing is very unique so that’s what I wanted to have,” Brown said.

Brown also noted the sense of joy — and security — radiating across the grounds, as society continues to make its way out of the pandemic.

“There’s no sense of fear here, whereas a year ago people would have been very cautious waking around without a mask on,” Brown told 8News.