The day in the spotlight has finally come for Colonial Downs as the Virginia Derby highlights an eleven race card that features five turf stakes races that comprise an enticing pick five sequence. While neither race features a standout, there are full and competitive fields in both the Virginia Oaks and Virginia Derby. It’s an exciting opportunity for horseplayers to dig into a mid-week stakes-laden card at a track that is one of the hidden gems in North American racing.
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- Race 1: 8-7-4-5
- Race 2: 8-2-9-1
- Race 3: 8-3-4-6
- Race 4: 11-7-9-2
- Race 5: 11-6-10-2
- Race 6: 3-7-2-6
- Race 7: 2-4-6-1
- Race 8: 3-4-7-1
- Race 9: 11-3-6-10
- Race 10: 7-10-1-6
- Race 11: 2-12-3-7
Colonial Downs Race 4: By The Hour (#11)
The one spot play I’ll highlight on the undercard comes in race four and is certain to be an exciting race for a spectator with 14 promising runners contesting this maiden special weight turf sprint. In this race I really like the chances of By the Hour (#11) to turn the tables on Gravitron (#9). The two runners exit the same race here on July 27th and while Gravitron got a perfect trip stalking the dueling leaders, By the Hour broke slow and put forth a visually appealing rally down the lane. She was a bit green that day and should really take a step forward second out. She sold for a lot of money as a two year old so there’s definitely some underlying talent for this exciting runner for Jamie Roth’s LNJ Foxwoods operation.
Colonial Downs Race 6: Bellagamba (Arg) (#3)
The stakes action gets underway on Virginia Derby Day with the Old Nelson Stakes and kicks off an all-stakes, all-turf pick five. Tuned (#2) will take a lot off play off her win over the course last time out and she has stakes form to lean back on from earlier in the year. She can win, but will certainly take more than her fair share of play based on the human connections in Jose Ortiz and Graham Motion and that last win was the first time she made it to the winner’s circle since 2019. Market Rumor (#7) is making her turf stakes debut, but is doing so off a very impressive win first time on the grass. She made an eye-catching move around the far turn and leveled off nicely in the stretch to keep the others at bay. I don’t blame the connections for waiting until her 14th career start to try the turf as she doesn’t have much pedigree for it, but it appears she’s finally found what she likes to do and could be dangerous right back in this spot. However, I don’t think the form of this field is overwhelming so I’m taking a shot with the wildcard in this race and that’s Bellagamba (#3). This Argentinian import is making her U.S. debut for Ignacio “Nacho” Correas and while he doesn’t have the best numbers with that move (1/20 $0.67 ROI Past 5 Yrs with Foreign Shippers), he’s certainly trained some good ones over the years with the likes of G1P Dona Bruja and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Blue Prize thriving under his tutelage after coming to the states. More recently, he sent out South American import Cheetara to stakes success at this Colonial meet in the Seeking the Pearl stakes last week. I like the fact that she gets blinkers for this race as she shortens up to the 8.5 furlongs and she was most likely wearing them when putting forth a bullet workout last time at Keeneland.
Colonial Downs Race 7: Climb and Maintain (#2)
Kenny McPeek ships in and holds a strong hand in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes for juveniles routing on the turf. The more fancied runner will be Tiz the Bomb (#4) who comes in off a blowout score at Ellis Park over the dirt earning by far the biggest Beyer number in the field. Although it was on dirt, he’s one of only two runners in this field proven at a mile and the dam was a winner on turf out west for Richard Mandella so if he translates that form to the other surface he will be really tough to beat. Gold Heritage (#6) is interesting stretching out off his maiden win at Ellis Park. He was quite the surprise that day, going off at 27-1 and it wasn’t even due to ideal circumstances. He broke slowly in a 12 horse field and put forth a strong rally down the lane. His pedigree suggests he should handle the stretch-out in distance and could get lost in the wagering for an underrated trainer, but I always have a tough time accepting Union Rags progeny on turf as he’s a negative influence. I find the other Kenny McPeek runner interesting and will make Climb and Maintain (#2) my top pick. Normally when a Kenny McPeek trainee wins first out, that means there’s talent present and this one did just that at Churchill back in June. He came back to try a turf sprint allowance at Ellis last time and I think he just got run off his feet and the race was over before it began for him. I think the stretch out to a 8.5 furlongs will suit him very nicely and I love that Jose Ortiz picks up the mount on this one leaving Robby Albarado on the other McPeek runner.
Colonial Downs Race 8: Mr. Mox (#3)
The Rosie’s Stakes is the sprint version of its preceding race and actually produced Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive the last time it was contested back in 2019. Now I don’t believe there are any runners with that kind of talent in this group, but it does make it a contentious betting race. Trust Our Jouney (#4) has to be considered as the only stakes placed runner in this field. The winner of his last race, Her World, was a good looking filly from Wesley Ward and I don’t think there’s any killers like her in this field so this son of American Pharoah certainly fits here. The morning line favorite Tejano Twist (#7) is not without a chance coming off a debut score over the dirt here at Colonial earlier this month. The Bret Calhoun barn has been firing all meet with its runners, but there is very little turf pedigree here although the connections may have liked what they saw when the colt worked over the grass last week. However, I made a different runner making a surface switch my top selection in Mr. Mox (#3). The Jamie Ness barn is 5/18 with a $2.36 ROI with juveniles going dirt to turf over the past five years and despite Parx running as well on Tuesday jockey Ruben Silvera comes down for this mount. It’s a limited sample but Divining Rod is 2/2 with his turf sprint runners in his young stud career and Mr. Mox ran well over a sealed surface last time which sometimes provides signal a horse will like the turf.
Colonial Downs Race 9: Invincible Gal (GB) (#11)
The filly version of the Virginia Derby, the Virginia Oaks, goes as race nine and will be run over the same distance and course as the featured race. I think the value in this race comes from fading Por Que No (#7) who comes in off a slow pace win in the Boiling Springs last out at Monmouth. Although 2nd place finisher Shantisara came back to win a G3 at Arlington, Por Que No had it all her own way on the front end and doesn’t project to get that same cushy trip today in this bulky field. That’s especially true if Brittany Russell employs team tactics with her two runners from the same connections in Adelaide Miss (#1) and Out Of Sorts (#10). The two runners have complimentary running styles and I can envision a scenario where they send the inside horse to set it up for Out of Sorts who is dropping in class after finding the waters a bit too deep in the Saratoga Oaks. She’s dangerous, but I think today is finally the day for Invincible Gal (#11). She showed a lot of talent in her juvenile season and her form is a bit dirtied up off those last couple runs. Two back she was bet down to favoritism, but got caught behind a slow pace when Navratilova wired the Tepin at Churchill. Last out, she was getting a good trip until being blocked throughout the stretch while the winner got a beautiful unencumbered run down the outside. That horse, High Opinion, flattered the top pick’s form when coming back to run a valiant second in the G2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga. Invincible Gal now gets to face only three-year-olds and might find less traffic trouble over this expansive Colonial turf course. Others to throw in as backups would be Flippant (#3) who won a stakes last out after stumbling at the start, but was set up by a fast pace and Belle Belisa (Ire) (#6) who makes a huge jump up in class, but showed a potent kick overpowering a maiden special weight field while overcoming a slow pace.
Colonial Downs Race 10: Experienced (#7)
We’ve finally reached the big one this Colonial meet in the Virginia Derby. This past winners of this race represent a who’s who of turf horses in this century with classy runners like Kitten’s Joy, English Channel, and Gio Ponti using this stakes race as a springboard to future G1 success. For me the key race to watch coming into this was the Bald Eagle Derby at Pimlico last month. Three of the six runners that contested that stakes race are back together again here and I think trips told the story in that race. Indian Lake (#2) got to walk on an uncontested lead and was able to hold off Experienced (#7) and Wootton Asset (#6) in the stretch. All three runners cut back from 12 furlongs to 9 furlongs for this affair and its a race that’s certain to have a more contentious pace due to, if nothing else, today’s field size. I think both Wootton Asset and Experienced have a chance to turn the tables but will make Experienced the top selection. This Jonathan Thomas runner sports an impeccable pedigree out of G1 winner No Matter What and a half sibling to classy turf horses Rainbow View and Just As Well. Plus, Manny Franco makes a special trip down from Saratoga to ride this promising prospect. With a strong Augustin Stable lineage and as a lightly raced type, he has all the potential to take another step forward and handle this field on his way to bigger and better things. The longshot I’d try to pair him up with would be Shady McGee (#10) since you can do worse than backing Mike Maker going long on the turf exiting classy allowance races.