NEW KENT, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, March 28, the team at New Kent’s Colonial Downs race track set fire to the famous Secretariat Turf Course in preparation for the 2023 horse racing season, which is currently set to begin July 13.
Forget trailblazers — the day was all about “track-blazing.”
Because of Virginia’s burn law, which forbids any open flames before 4 p.m., the Colonial Downs team — in partnership with the New Kent Fire Department — waited until just about 4:01 p.m. to get the blaze going. But within two hours, the flames had charred the old layer of grass. It’s a crucial part of preparing the course’s foundation for the new season.
Spokesperson Dave Zenner explained how the smoky sight and smell signal a fresh season ahead.
“It’s really like the kick start of the year,” Zenner said.
Setting fire to the track happens in lieu of traditional methods like mowing or trimming. This modernized method makes the preparation process quicker and more efficient.
“It allows us to get the top layer, the dead layer of grass off and get it off quickly,” Zenner said. “And it puts nutrients into the soil.”
Hold your horses, the New Kent Fire Department was on standby, ensuring the fire remained on-track. This all as the crew celebrated this new season, marking the 50th anniversary of the course’s namesake — famous Virginia-bred racehorse Secretariat’s — Triple Crown win.
Zenner told 8News that Virginia has always been home to powerhouse racers and this year is no different.
“One of the biggest horses for the Kentucky Derby, by the name of Forté,” Zenner started. “He’s definitely the favorite right now, [he] was Virginia bred.”
The Secretariat turf course also happens to be the widest course in the entire country and it’s right here in central Virginia. Once burned through, crew members will add a fresh layer of dirt. Then shortly after, it’s off to the races.
“When you start seeing those things happen, you really know things are getting close,” Zenner said.
The grass will start to grow back within weeks, if not days — plenty of time before the racing season begins July 13th.
A new element to the Colonial Downs racing season this year is the launch of weekend races. Stick with 8News for updates.