Breeder hopes return of live horse racing at Colonial Downs “will take off”

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A young horse, with no name, kept following Darlene Bowlin as she opened the fence. 

“This is my nine month old filly,” she said. “She’s probably the sweetest one that I’ve ever had so far. I’m thinking about naming her ‘Rocks the Clocks’… It’s kind of fun to grow up with each one, to see how different their personalities are.”

Bowlin has been breeding horses for about 15 years out on her family’s farm in Powhatan County. Growing up here, she used to race them throughout the pasture hoping one day to take them to a track. 

“You’ve got to have the good breeding that has the speed or stamina,” she explained. “But the biggest thing is the heart, to really want to do it. You can have the best breeding all day long, but if they don’t want to do it then you’re not going to have a race horse.”

A few have won big, like her horses “Jake’s Little Man” and “EZ Mac,” both taking titles at Colonial Downs. Bowlin says it was always fun to go there since it was close to home, describing it as a nice getaway from friends and family to come out to the races. 

The horse track closed its doors in 2014. Since then, Bowlin has had to travel far by herself to see her horses compete. 

“When you race at other places, you have to go three to three and a half hours away,” Bowlin explained. “You put a lot of money, you put a lot of heart, you put a lot of time into breeding these horses and you want them to race here.”

That will now change. 

The Virginia Racing Commission signed off on a significant infrastructure limited license for the Colonial Downs Group at its meeting Thursday, meaning Colonial Downs has the authority to reopen and operate the racetrack and have live horse races there. 

The Colonial Downs Group is making a $300 million investment to reopen the track, creating 800 new jobs by the end of 2019. It’s expected to generate $25 million annually in state tax revenues, $17 million annually in local tax revenues and $25 million annually to Virginia’s horse industry. The project is not receiving any tax breaks. 

Officials also broke ground on a new off-track betting site in Richmond, set to open in June. 

The Commission also approved the live thoroughbred race schedule for 15 races in conjunction with the Virginia Equine Alliance between Aug. 8 and Sept. 7, 2019. 

This is a welcome change for Bowlin, who’s young filly is ready to make her debut. 

“I’m really hoping that this will take off. And we can have a really good meet that’s comparable to other states,” Bowlin said.

Bringing racing back to the Commonwealth has a lot of meaning too, Bowlin says. 

“Virginia in my opinion produced the most fabulous, best racehorse of all, Secretariat. So it’s nothing like having racing come back here to the hometown of Virginia,” she grinned. 

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