Delaware adjusts racing schedule in face of competition for horses

Posted: Jan. 12, 2017

Delaware Park will again offer 81 racing programs this year, but some changes have been made as the track seeks to find a schedule that maximizes revenue and field size in the congested Mid-Atlantic region.

Racing will begin June 3, the Saturday before the Belmont Stakes, and extend through Oct. 21 with racing on a Monday-through-Wednesday and Saturday schedule. Last year Delaware Park opened Preakness Stakes day and raced through mid-October.

Over the past 20 years, as racing days have dropped from a high of almost 150 in 1997, opening day at Delaware Park has gradually moved from early April to late May.

Track management and the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association last year agreed to extend their current contract by one year through 2017. The agreement calls for 81 days of racing per year.

Kevin DeLucia, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Delaware Park, told the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission Jan. 11 the 2017 schedule is the result of what transpired in 2016, particularly early in the racing season.

“We struggled to fill races in the month of May (with racing only three days a week),” DeLucia said. “We felt with everything going on, starting after Memorial Day was our best option, and the horse population would have grown by then to what we need to do four days a week.

“As the meet went on we had an easier time filling races. We looked at 10 to 12 calendars for 2017 and decided to make this change.”

Delaware Park Executive Director of Racing John Mooney said early in the season last year the racing office at times struggled to find five horses to enter some races, and that “there were days when I shouldn’t have run the program.” Eventually, there were about 1,200 horses on the grounds, the highest number in five years, so field size picked up.

Mooney noted, however, that larger fields in the latter portion of the meet didn’t translate into higher pari-mutuel handle. Racing commissioners also commented on how Delaware Park is getting “squeezed” in the marketplace.

Mooney said Kentucky Downs, even though it races only five days in September, offers such high purses for turf racing that its program impacts racing on all of the East Coast, and that meet is followed by the Keeneland fall meet. And in the Mid-Atlantic, “we also compete more now with Maryland running dead against us,” he said.

“Last year was the first year we were putting up turf races and not getting entries,” Mooney said. “They were running five or six turf races a day in Maryland. The horses get used up.”

Handle on and off track on Delaware Park races in 2016 was down about 10% from 2015 despite a bump in average field size. DeLucia said even wagering on the track’s grass races was down last year.

“It’s just hard to understand,” he said.

Discussions among racetracks and horsemen’s groups in the Mid-Atlantic in recent years to work together to bolster the overall product in the region offered some promise but thus far have failed to produce results. Therefore, from June through October this year, the following meets all or in part will overlap: Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Delaware Park, Laurel Park, Monmouth Park, Parx Racing, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, and Presque Isle Downs & Casino.

(Delaware Park photo by Tom LaMarra)