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Incentives Create Opportunity for VA-Certified Horses

The Virginia-certified program incentives to raise and train horses in Virginia.

Racing at Colonial Downs

Racing at Colonial Downs

Coady Photography

Colonial Downs invites horsemen across the country to discover if their Thoroughbred, bred outside of Virginia, qualifies as Virginia Certified; therefore, eligible to enter in the many Virginia-Restricted races. Any horse that maintained residency in Virginia for at least a six-month consecutive period prior to December 31 of its 2-year-old year qualifies. There are 46 Virginia-Restricted races in the first book alone. Across the nine-week 2024 Colonial Downs racing season, more than $2.4 million in non-stakes purses are up for grabs.

"We often hear from owners and trainers who did not know their horse qualifies for our Virginia Restricted races," said Gary Palmisano, Executive Director of Racing for Churchill Downs. "The rules are unique to what you find in other states in that the groundwork to become eligible is done early in a horse's career, so horses claimed or bought at auction may in fact be eligible unbeknownst to the current connections. I would just encourage trainers and owners to double check their eligibility so that they can take advantage of this fantastic opportunity." 

The Virginia Thoroughbred Association has diligently kept track of all Virginia-certified, Virginia-sired, and Virginia-bred Thoroughbreds, and horsemen can reap the benefits by following the link to check if their horse qualifies. For easy use, it is sorted by trainer.

"If the horse wasn't named when we registered it, then it's not named in the database," said Debbie Easter, Executive Director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. "If they don't find it by name, then they need to search for it by the dam's name and the date of birth."

On the website, one can simply check the box for "Virginia-Certified" at the top of the page, then either search by horse's name, dam's name and date of birth, or view a list of all registered horses alphabetically.

Created in 2016 by the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, the Virginia Certified program incentives horsemen to raise and train their Thoroughbreds in the Commonwealth. It has been integral to breathing life into Virginia's horse industry. In a recently conducted economic study, it was found that the program has generated $86.2 million in economic benefits for the state.

"What this has done is save our industry's infrastructure in Virginia," Easter said. "Our farms were going away. Our training centers and our farms that raise young horses were going away. We were losing veterinarians, blacksmiths, everyone you need for the horse industry. We designed this certified program with hopes of bringing 400 horses to Virginia each foal crop. It is bringing more like 800 to 900. It's been a huge savior to our farms."

The Virginia Certified program has awarded $14.6 million to owners since 2016. The Virginia Owner's Purse Bonus awards owners of Virginia-bred and Virginia-sired horses a 50% purse bonus for horses finishing 1st through 4th in all open races. When a Virginia-Restricted horse wins an open company race, the Virginia Developer's Purse Bonus offers up to a 25% purse bonus to that horse's developer (the owner of the horse when it makes its first lifetime start).

"Our farms are hiring people, they're making capital improvements, they're able to raise their rates," Easter said. "Virginia used to be one of the largest breeding states in the nation, but when we began this program, we were down to about 100 foals a year. In these seven years that we've been registering certified horses, we've gotten over 5,000 horses in our program. We've put the same amount of certified horses on farms in Virginia as the breeding program has over the last 20 years. These are the beautiful things about what we're doing."

Those 5,000 and counting Virginia Certified horses are eligible to enter in the Virginia Restricted races at Colonial Downs, and the purses are run for 15% more than the open company races.

Opening day at Colonial Downs is Thursday, July 11. The first condition book can be found online.

This press release has not been edited by BloodHorse. If there are any questions please contact the organization that produced the release.