Posted: Sept. 17, 2017
What began as Owners Appreciation Day in 1993 at Delaware Park has had many themes over the years, most recently “Make Horse Racing Great Again” in recognition of eventual President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
The life-size cardboard cutouts of Trump and Hillary Clinton designed for the event never made it from the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association office to the picnic grove tent so as not to trigger a fist fight or shouting match. The 2016 Owners Day, however, had its share of excitement on the racetrack.
On Sept. 30, the DTHA will mark a milestone with the theme, “Celebrating 25 Years of Owners Day.” To commemorate the event, the condition book offers a “Silver Anniversary” overnight race for gray or roan horses to go along with six Thoroughbred stakes.
DTHA Executive Director Bessie Gruwell said Owners Day for more than two decades has served to show “gratitude and showcase the owners who supported the meet” at Delaware Park. It began with a complimentary luncheon in picnic grove and overnight purses were increased by 50% for the day.
That was a few years before the state legislature passed the Horse Racing Preservation Act, which legalized video lottery terminals at Delaware Park and two harness tracks—Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway. As purses grew for about a decade before competition from casinos in neighboring states began to take a toll on gaming revenue in Delaware, so did the money available on Owners Day.
Owners Day has become a showcase for the Delaware Certified Thoroughbred Program, which offers bonuses to owners and certifiers for winning horses based on residency requirements in a state with no established Thoroughbred breeding program. The DCTP had a healthy financial balance last year, so for 2017 the DTHA and Delaware Park management agreed to offer more incentives for Owners Day stakes.
Purses for the New Castle Stakes for 3-year-olds and up and the Tax Free Shopping Distaff for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up, both at six furlongs, have been increased to $100,000 from $75,000. They are for horses bred in the state or registered with the DCTP.
The purses for two $75,000 stakes restricted to horses who have started at Delaware Park this year in overnight races—the DTHA Governor’s Day Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at one mile and 70 yards and the George Rosenberger Memorial for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on the turf—remain the same, but both carry a $50,000 bonus for DCTP-eligible horses that finish first, second or third.
“We’re trying to entice them to run in open stakes,” Gruwell said. “The bonus money is an incentive to come into the program and get enrollment back up again.”
The stakes for Sept. 30 are rounded out by two $75,000 DCTP events at 5 ½ furlongs: the Small Wonder for 2-year-old fillies and the First State Dash for 2-year-olds.
The $37,500 Silver Anniversary starter allowance race for gray or roan horses that have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2016-17 is at one mile and 70 yards and named in memory of Robert Camac, a southern New Jersey owner and trainer who was a force at Delaware Park and other Mid-Atlantic racetracks for many years before his death in 2001.
All overnight purses Sept. 30 have been increased for 50%; for example, the condition book shows a maiden special weight event with a $51,000 pot compared with the usual $34,000. A few overnight races will be named in honor of the state Senate and House of Representatives for supporting the DCTP, which as of mid-September had a balance of more than $872,000.
Gruwell noted there are 30 DCTP-eligible in the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale scheduled for Oct. 2-3 in Timonium, Md., and that some of the sale graduates come to Delaware farms to earn certification. With 400 horses catalogued, “that’s really good news for the industry,” she said.
Gruwell said Owners Day will include a luncheon, $100 groom awards for best-turned-out horses, and other surprises throughout the day. To RSVP for Owners Day, contact the DTHA at 302-994-2521, extension 7284.
(Delaware Park photo by Tom LaMarra)