Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Colonial question answered, indirectly

I'm not sure whether the questions I posed in my last blog post of May were the spur for a new post over at the Virginia Thoroughbred Association blog: Coulda, Woulda Shoulda, The Outside Turf Course. But it seems to answer my questions, to some degree at least, about why the turf course is beautiful, wide, but various-distance-limited at Colonial Downs.

It seems that when the track was being constructed, there were proponents of an outer turf course, with the dirt track on the inside. For various reasons -- "nobody here does it that way" being the underlying sentiment -- the idea was spiked.

"GP," I presume VTA Executive Director Glenn Petty, who posted the blog entry, apparently was discussing the matter with Gil Short (Colonial GM upon its opening) and trainer Ferris Allen on Saturday. They considered how the idea was floated of a course that would host a full card of grass races, which was "eyebrow raising" at the time (around 20 years ago, I guess), and yet the card taking place as the trio watched last weekend was just that -- 12 races, all on the lawn.

The outside track idea was panned in part by Allen, who told Maryland Jockey Club Vice President of Racing Lenny Hale to consider how many turf races Colonial really expected to run in a day: "Three, maybe four?" (Remember, the Maryland Jockey Club was deeply involved in helping launch and manage Colonial for many years.)

Short and Arnold Stansley were harness-trackers and they didn't want the trotters and pacers who run at Colonial in the fall to be 180 feet from the track apron and its spectators. ... I can't really argue with them on it, other than that I don't watch the harness races much, myself. ... But eventually that argument wasn't the killer.

Ultimately, planners couldn't find a suitable way to get the dirt-track horses across the turf course from the saddling enclosure. Seriously.

A tunnel was one idea, but Stansley apparently had "two million reasons" why he didn't want to do that. Each, I presume, was green and had George Washington's picture on it.

The alternate idea was simply to have a dirt crossover. After all, the famed "downhill" course at Santa Anita crosses the dirt track. And numerous racecourses in Britain and elsewhere in Europe have such crossovers.

"Some Virginia and Maryland horsemen" were not interested in a dirt crossover, the post states, despite the fact that they're common in other parts of the world.

And so Colonial ended up with a more traditional (for the U.S.) inner turf course, wide and wonderful in its beauty and resilience, and sadly quite limited in the variety of race-distances it can offer up for the horses.

There's a lot more to read on the subject over at the VTA Blog; I only summarized the post to sort of conclude the topic I started in May. The story over there includes more specifics and concludes with the retelling of a visit to Ireland and a unique course configuration there that certainly didn't scare off the wealthy connections.

Made for very entertaining and informative reading on a Tuesday night. Thanks, Mr. Petty, I presume.

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