06/14/2005 11:00PM

Grand Slam adds spice to new meet


Colonial Downs, the only racetrack in Virginia, has earned its reputation over the past eight years as a desirable location for grass horses in the mid-Atlantic region. This year, Colonial is hoping to expand its reputation even further.

The track's general manager, John Mooney, hit up backstretches in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Florida earlier this year to sell the track's racing program beyond its traditional drawing territory in Maryland, and he had an ace up his sleeve: the "Grand Slam of Grass," a marketing plan dreamed up by Colonial Downs management that will award a $3 million guaranteed bonus to any 3-year-old horse who can win two of Colonial's marquee stakes races along with the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf.

"We've got a full stable this year, and certainly the Grand Slam adds a lot of excitement," Mooney said. "This year we didn't want to be as dependent on Maryland, and I think we're well on our way to that."

The Grand Slam forms the backbone of Colonial's 40-day meet, which starts on Friday and runs through Aug. 9 on a Friday-through-Tuesday schedule. Post time is 6 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends.

Sixty-seven horses have been nominated to the Grand Slam, which begins with the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup on June 25, a 1 1/16-mile race on the turf for 3-year-olds that Colonial created for the series this year. Among the early nominees to the series are several notable U.S.-based horses, including the graded-stakes-placed Guillaume Tell and Triple Crown veterans Flower Alley and High Limit.

The series continues with the $750,000 Virginia Derby on July 16, a Grade 3, 1 1/4-mile race. That card will also feature the Grade 3, $200,000 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes and the $200,000 Virginia Oaks.

Colonial is erecting 5,500 temporary seats for the June 25 and July 16 cards. The changes are welcomed by Colonial's horsemen, who have worked closely with management on everything from racing dates to promotions.

"Horsemen are pretty reluctant to give track management credit for anything, but I think we really have to salute Colonial for going all-out to make horse racing a fun experience," said Frank Petramalo Jr., the executive director of the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.