06/29/2001 11:00PM

Summertime meet meant to cure blues

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Colonial Downs will open its first-ever summer meet on Tuesday, with hopes of building up tourist business and, in the process, turning around its flagging fortunes.

The track, in New Kent County, Va., has struggled to meet its projections every year since opening in 1997. It will run 22 days this summer on a Friday-through-Tuesday schedule, closing on Aug. 7. Post time will be 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 4 p .m. on Monday and Tuesday.

Colonial had previously run five-week Thoroughbred meets that began on Labor Day and ended in mid-October, but problems with its summer harness racing and lingering financial concerns led the track to request a summer Thoroughbred meet this year with the support of the Maryland Jockey Club, which manages the meet.

Although Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, which is owned by the MJC, will be open for live racing on July 4 and July 7, the MJC will shut its tracks during the rest of the Colonial meet to encourage Maryland horsemen to run in Virginia.

Using built-up simulcasting revenues, Colonial is promising horsemen $200,000 a day in purses, the highest level for the track since it opened. Colonial officials said this week that the track's 700 stalls have all been reserved by horsemen from California, Texas, Kentucky, and Maryland.

John Mooney, the track's general manager, said at a press conference on June 28 that the track hopes to reach new customers with its summer dates, including the tourists who flock to Virginia's beaches during July and August. The track is located in a rural area between Richmond and Newport News, just off I-64.

Colonial's turf course has received accolades from horsemen in the past, and the confidence of the track's racing office in the course is reflected in Colonial's stakes schedule. Eight of its 12 stakes will be run on the grass, including the July 14 Virginia Derby, a $200,000 race at 1 1/4 miles, and the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes, a $150,000 race for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.

Colonial is also offering steeplechase racing this summer, on weekends and on July 4, highlighted by the July 14 David L. "Zeke" Memorial, a $50,000 stakes that has been rated a Grade 2 by the National Steeplechase Association.

AT A GLANCE

COLONIAL DOWNS

RACING SCHEDULE: 22 days from July 3 to August 7, Friday through Tuesday, with the addition of July 4.

POST TIME: 4:00 p.m. Eastern Fri-Sun., 1:00 p.m. Eastern Monday and Tuesday. 4:00 p.m. July 4.

ADMISSIONS: General, $2; box seat and Jockey Club, $5; Turf Club, $10

HIGHLIGHTS: $200,000 Virginia Derby and $150,000 Grade 3 All Along Stakes, July 14

LOCATION: Just off Interstate 64 midway between Richmond and Williamsburg

PHONE: (804) 966-7223

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