06/13/2007 12:00AM

Plenty of grass and big fields


Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., is promising racing fans this year to expect more of the same from the race meet that begins on Friday: big fields running often over its two turf courses for 40 days and nights.

The European-style meet begins Friday with a first post of 5 p.m. Eastern, and guess what? Fourteen horses are running in the first race over the inner turf at 1 1/16 miles. The first race is one of eight turf races on the opening nine-race card, and 127 horses were entered, an average of 13 horses per race.

"We've found what our niche is," said Ian Woolnough, the track's general manager, on Wednesday. "We're going to run as much as possible on turf."

Woolnough expects Colonial to run at least 80 percent of its races on the grass. The track will run on a five-day-a-week schedule until closing day on Aug. 7, with first-post times on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday at 5op.m., and first-post times on Saturday and Sunday of 1 p.m.

The highlight of the meet will once again be the Grade 2, $1 million Virginia Derby, a race for 3-year-olds going 1 1/4 miles on the turf scheduled for July 21. The card will also include the $200,000 Virginia Oaks, a turf race for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles.

But the meet also gets off to a bang with its first Saturday card, which will include the running of two of the track's three graded stakes races: the Grade 3, $750,000 Colonial Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and the Grade 3, $200,000 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes for fillies and mares.

The Colonial Turf Cup and the Virginia Derby are the first two legs of a four-race series that will award any horse that can win all four races with a total of $5 million in purse money and bonuses. The other two legs are the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 11 and the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.