Momentum building in Va. equine industry for potential return of Colonial Downs

Capitol Connection

It has been more than three years since Colonial Downs closed.

But news that the horse track could reopen, thanks to legislation that passed through the General Assembly this year, is building momentum in the equine industry.

Karen Godsey owns Eagle Point Farm. The Thoroughbred training center sits on 200 acres in Ashland.

“We’re basically a race horse school, where the race horses come in and learn how to be race horses and then they go on to race tracks and run races,” she said.

But when Colonial Downs closed, her business hit a slump.

“We were scared that the horses would leave — and they did,” said Godsey. “There was no racing in Virginia and so they had to ship out.”

But in the last few months, enthusiasm behind the idea that Colonial Downs might reopen has horses, and business, coming back.

Revolutionary Racing, based in Chicago, has been in negotiations to buy the track.

Debbie Easter is President of the Virginia Equine Alliance.

“Because of the enthusiasm that Colonial might open again, the horsemen have started up a program to put some of their money into incentivising out-of-state owners to send their horses here,” she said. “They’re coming in much faster than we thought they would. They’re filling farms, farms are hiring new people and they’re doing capital projects they’ve never been able to do.”

Godsey has already doubled her payroll and upped her starting wage at Eagle Point Farm.

“It supports my blacksmith, my farrier, the lumber guy, the hay guy, the feed guy. It really supports a ton of people,” she said.

Easter said legislation that passed the General Assembly is helping build the momentum. It still needs the governor’s signature.

HB1609, introduced by Del. Michael Webert (R-Fauquier), would allow for something called historical horse racing at Colonial Downs.

“You’ve got to give the people that are buying [Colonial Downs] a reason to do it. They have to have the financial incentive to do it,” said Easter.

The machines would let people bet on horse races that have already happened — without knowing which horse they’re putting money on.

Easter said it creates a new revenue source and motivation for the track to reopen.

Opponents fear it could lead to expanded gambling in the state.

Easter said surrounding states have alternative gaming, which has put Virginia at a disadvantage. She believes this bill would give the commonwealth an even playing field.

“We think it’ll be a big boom for the horse industry,” said Easter.

And would mean horses like the ones at Godsey’s farm could not only train, but also race, in Virginia.

The governor has until April 9 to sign the bill into law.

AP contributed to this report. 

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