It is finally here. We are only two days away from the opening of the 72nd season of live racing at Delaware Park. The anticipation and excitement has steadily been building over the cold winter days.
Now, the reality of trying to handicap races at the beginning of a new meet. Additional factors, such as superstar jockey Ramon Dominguez not returning and the influx of top Midwest trainers, makes handicapping the opening day card and the first few weeks of the meet even more challenging.
So as a handicapper what game plan can we develop to help us over the challenging first few days of a meet.
Most importantly, keep everything simple. Often as a handicapper I tend to make things complex, so I am going to try to keep focused and keep things simple. Here is what I am going to be looking for the first two days of the meet.
1.) Horses for courses - in my opinion, over the years, certain horses have shown to really have a fondness for Delaware Park. Some horses just seem to change once they come to the oval in Stanton. So with that said, here are a couple of horses to keep an eye on.
Partner’s Halo – second race, Saturday – typical horse for course in that all five of his career victories and $72,000 of his $105,513 in lifetime earnings have come at Delaware Park. In his last four starts, all away from Delaware, he has beaten only one horse. This Maryland-bred trained Mike Petro may not pull off the upset, but look for him to show dramatic improvement.
Bentrovhto – sixth race, Saturday – although he is winless in six outings this year, he has still been rather sharp as indicated by his three seconds. Plus, the Florida-bred trained by perennial top trainer Michael Gorham has a record of three wins, three seconds and a third from nine starts at DelPark.
Announce of Gold – seventh race, Monday – although he only has one DelPark win, the Kentucky-bred has been on the board in 14 of his 27 starts at Delaware Park. So, I am going to put him in my exacta and trifecta combinations.
2.) Trainers – it is obvious. Focus on the trainers who win the majority of the races. In past years, these trainers include Scott Lake, Tim Ritchey, Larry Jones, and Steve Klesaris. Here are a couple of trainers to keep an eye on the first few days of the meet.
Wanda Nevada – first race, Saturday, trained by Tim Ritchey – Ritchey has finished in the top five of the DelPark trainer standings for nearly the 15 years. Wanda Nevada had a very sharp effort in her only career outing and the filly who ran third came out of the race to win her next start.
Sadie My Lady – fifth race, Saturday, trained by Scott Lake – Lake is the seven-time defending leading trainer at Delaware Park and he has done well dropping horses in class. Sadie My Lady has been sharp since being freshened and drops into straight claiming event after facing optional competition in Maryland.
New trainers – Cody Autrey, Ron Moquett and Ronny Werner – look for these three to have solid meets. They all have plenty horses and they all run top outfits that should not have a problem adjusting to Delaware Park.
Excitement and anticipation are building for the upcoming meeting at Delaware Park. The 72nd season of live racing is slated to begin on April 25.
One new trainer who will likely make his presence felt is Cody Autrey. In past years, after the Fair Grounds meet, Autrey would customarily split his stable between Churchill Downs and Lone Star Park. This year, he has decided to send the majority, 36 or so, horses to Delaware Park and another 24 or so to Churchill Downs. The first year at a new racetrack is always challenging, but Autrey seems like he has the right stuff to be very successful and I expect him to make an impact right from the very beginning of the meet.
He liked what Delaware Park had to offer in terms of purse structure and length of meet. One thing he noted was that the Fair Grounds meet ends right before the Delaware Park meet begins and the Delaware Park meet ends right before the Fair Grounds meet begins. He also noted he expects to have a nice variety of horses at Delaware Park that should cover most of the races in the condition book. He suggested he might consider leaving a string on the east coast if all things go well at Delaware Park.
Autrey, who finished third at the recently concluded Fair Grounds meet, should fit in just right with other Delaware Park stalwarts such as Scott Lake, Steve Klesaris, J.Larry Jones, Mike Gorham, and Tim Ritchey. He is going to run his horses. He is going to run them in the spots where they are most competitive and just like a good poker player, he will not be afraid to take a chance every now and again.
Look for him to start the Delaware Park season strong and stay strong throughout the season. Other new outfits to look for at Delaware Park include Ron Moquett and Michael Stidham. The ingredients are certainly in place for an exciting meet.
Proud Spell adds another glorious chapter to Delaware Oaks
In winning the 2008 Eclipse Award for outstanding 3-year-old filly, Brereton Jones’s Proud Spell has added another glorious chapter to the Delaware Oaks. The daughter of Proud Citizen trained by J. Larry Jones has become the 18th filly to finish first, second, or third in the Delaware Oaks to go on to win the divisional championship. The Kentucky-bred is the first since Desert Vixen (inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979) who accomplished the feat nearly thirty-five years go.
While the Delaware Handicap has been the focal point of the Delaware Handicap Festival of Racing in mid-July, the Delaware Oaks tends to be overshadowed and few realize that the Oaks has just as glorious a history as the Del ‘Cap.
Some of the greatest fillies of all-time have run in the race that was inaugurated in 1938. The first notable winner was Vagrancy in 1942. Owned and bred by Belair Stud, the granddaughter of Man o’War notched a nose victory in the Oaks before winning both the 3-year-old filly and handicap mare championships of 1942.
The following year, the race was not run because of rationing due to World War II. Plucky Maud, owned by Lazy F Ranch, won the renewal of the race in 1944.
In 1945, Gallorette, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, notched a 3-length win with Eddie Arcaro in the Oaks. The Maryland-bred would finish her career with a record of 21 victories from 72 starts with earnings of $445,535.
In the 1950s and 1960s, 14 divisional champions raced in the Oaks. In the 1950s, nine divisional champions placed in the race. They were Next Move (1950), Kiss Me Kate (1951), Grecian Queen (1953), Parlo (1954), High Voltage (1955), Levee (1956), Bayou (1957), Idun (1958), and Silver Spoon (1959).
Some of the sports greatest fillies like Cicada, Dark Mirage, and Gallant Bloom raced in the Oaks in the ‘60s. In 1962, Cicada (elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967) ran third in the Delaware Oaks after winning the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Mother Goose and running third in the CCA Oaks. The Kentucky-bred owned by the Meadow Stable finished her career with a record of 23 wins from 42 starts with earnings of $738,674 in 1964. In 1968, because of the short four horse field and the presence of the overwhelming favorite Dark Mirage (elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974), the race was declared an exhibition. Dark Mirage posted a 2-length score that day. The Kentucky-bred concluded her race career in 1969 with a record of 12 wins from 27 starts with earnings of $362,788. King Ranch’s Gallant Bloom won the race in controversial fashion in 1969 when she was actually defeated by Christiana Stable’s Pit Bunny by 1 ¼-lengths, but was placed first by the stewards. Gallant Bloom would end her race career in July of 1970 with a record of 16 wins from 22 starts with earnings of $535,739.
While many have tried there have only been three fillies to win the Delaware Oaks and then win the Delaware Handicap the following year. They are Plucky Maud (1944 and 1945), Kiss Me Kate (1951 and 1952), and Parlo (1954 and 1955). A victory by Proud Spell in the 72nd renewal of the Delaware Handicap would make her the first to score the Oaks-Del ‘Cap double in 54 years. Good luck to her connections.
During this time of year, I often think about the Delaware Handicap. I reflect about how important the race is to us as a racing community and how the Del ‘Cap is much more than a race or a purse or a Grade. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my Delaware Handicap moments with you and I am hoping you will share some of your moments with us because it is the people; the fans, the horsemen and the employees of Delaware Park; that have made and make the Delaware Handicap a special race. We give life to the race and the race gives us incredible memories in return.
As a child growing up in the area, I quickly began to appreciate the history and heritage of the race. I remember betting Jameela to upset the race favorite in Love Sign. I also remember the sense of pride I had when Saratoga adopted our local big race as part of their stakes schedule when the track closed after the 1982 season. In 1986, I felt like a good friend returned home when the race was returned to the Stanton-oval.
My experiences and appreciation for the Delaware Handicap really started to take shape after I started working for Delaware Park.
My first vivid memory and moment of realizing the rich and history and tradition of the race occurred in 1995. Night Fax, conditioned by William Turner who trained Seattle Slew to Triple Crown glory in 1977, won. While the media was doing the post race interview, Billy Turner was quoted as saying, “the Delaware Handicap is a race I have always wanted to win.” This was said by a man who is only one of a handful of people in the history of this great sport to train a Triple Crown winner, about a race, that at the time, had a purse of $150,000 when many other races in the division carried much higher purses, but did not have the prestige. And then he explained, as a young man growing up in the sport he had seen and read about some of the greatest fillies and mares trained by some of the all-time greats winning the race during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and because of that some day he hoped to win the race himself.
A couple of years late in 1997, a young and upcoming trainer, a protégé of Jonathan Sheppard, named H. Graham Motion had a long shot Power Play in the race. It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Graham and I remember thinking that while I did not think his horse had much of a chance in the race, I was pretty sure this was a trainer we were going to be hearing about for years to come. I was right about the trainer, but wrong about the horse. Power Play won and paid $57.60. Since then, Graham has become nationally known and I consider myself blessed to not only know him on a professional level, but also as a friend. For me at least, it all started on a hot humid Sunday in July. A few years later, a nationally recognized H. Graham Motion almost pulled off another shocking upset when Your Out was just nipped at the wire against Summer Colony in one of the most thrilling stretch runs I have ever seen. I remember looking at Graham immediately after the race and seeing the disappointment in his face not because the race was Grade II or because the winner’s share was worth $360,000 or because he just missed pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the year, but because of how much he wanted to win this race again.
In 2001, Christiana Stables, owned by Jane Lunger, had the hot local horse that would be facing some of the nationally accomplished fillies and mares in the nation. Under the Rug, who loved the Delaware Park race course and won the prep in convincing fashion, was facing a daunting task. I remember talking to Mrs. Lunger like it was yesterday with her telling me how she had not been feeling well and her health was not good, but how much she wanted to win the Delaware Handicap one more time. This coming from the first woman of the American Turf who holds the record for most Del ‘Cap victories (Endine in 1958 & 1959 and Obeah 1969 and 1970) and also owned some of the greats like Go For Wand and Linkage. Unfortunately, this grand lady did not get her wish. Under the Rug finished second and a short time later, Mrs. Lunger passed away. But I will never forget her famed yellow and purple silks on her home track in her home race which was also my home track in my home race.
The same year also brought great joy when Ramon Dominguez, won his first Delaware Handicap aboard Irving’s Baby. I remember then and since then this has been reinforced, the extreme pride and joy Ramon had for winning his big local race. Ramon on different occasions has let me know that while he has won some of the biggest races in North America, he considers his two Delaware Handicap victories to be some of his most important. On that hot and humid summer day in July of 2001, I felt the same joy and pride in seeing this local nationally accomplished jockey win the big race at his home track and I had the pleasure to share with my friend his second victory with Unbridled Belle in 2007.
In 2005, the first year the Delaware Handicap carried a purse of $1 million, I met trainer J. Larry Jones for the first time at the post position draw press conference on the Tuesday before. The Kentucky trainer who I did not really know came into the New Castle room with his trademark cowboy hat and boots and he explained to me how he just pulled the van into Delaware Park earlier this morning and not more then ten minutes ago unloaded Island Sand into her stall. I remember thinking wow this guy is the real deal and if he ever came to Delaware Park for an entire season it would be awesome for the racetrack. Not only does he train a great horse, but he also vans his own horses as well. During the week leading up to race, I really got to know him well and was so impressed with the way he handled everybody, especially the media and I just kept thinking we need to find a way to get him to bring the rest of his horses to Delaware Park. Well the rest became history. Island Sand won the race, which believe it or not is still the only million dollar race Jones has won. Because of some events over the summer in his Kentucky home and because he came to Delaware Park with one horse in our biggest race, he decided to bring his whole barn back to Stanton the following year. A short time after that Hard Spun came into his barn and Eight Belles and Proud Spell followed with Old Fashioned shortly after that. As a racing community, we became better in so many different ways because of the addition of J. Larry Jones and personally I have become a better man because of my friendship with him. In my opinion, all of this started because of the Delaware Handicap.
I will also never forget some of the local trainers who ran fillies and mares in this race and how much they still want to win this race. In 1997 and 1998, the late Robert Camac sent Winter Melody postward. Allen Iwinski tried the race twice with Her Halo in 2000 and Devon Rose in 2003. Steve Klesaris had Misty Sixes in 2004, Michael Gorham had Peak Marie’s Way in 2007 and Michael and Nick Petro had Timely Broad in 1998 and 1999. Ask them and other local trainers and owners to name the five races they most want to win in their careers and I am sure the Delaware Handicap will be included on every list.
It is because of these experiences that I have come to realize the most important thing about the Delaware Handicap is neither the purse nor the grade, but the most important opinion of all is our own because in the end, it is our race.
Welcome to the first installment of the Delaware Park blog.
First, let me introduce myself. I am Chris Sobocinski, the Racing Information Coordinator at Delaware Park. My primary duty is to act as a liaison between the media and Delaware Park horsemen to help bring you informed and interesting stories via various media outlets. I am also the morning-line handicapper for the track program. I grew up coming to Delaware Park. I started working at Delaware Park as mutuel clerk in 1986, I have been doing the morning-line odds for the most part since 1993 and I have been the Racing Information Coordinator since 1995.
I am extremely blessed because I have a job at the track I grew up with. I was raised in nearby Hockessin and spent many a summer afternoon at the track as a child and a young adult. I remember going to see the "Jock" LaBelle boxing matches in the stable area, I remember where I was sitting when I saw Spectacular Bid for the first time, and I remember debating my father on who was the best race horse of all-time Man o' War or Secretariat. Delaware Park is where I learned to read (the Racing Form), where I learned money management (always make sure you have money left to bet the late double) and this is the track where I threw my first losing ticket on ground and also where I cashed my first winner. It is also the first track where I have had a horse disqualified by the stewards. I learned many of my life's lessons right here at the track in Stanton.
Towards the end of the 2008 live racing season, Andrew Gentile, the General Manager, asked me to look into doing a blog for Delaware Park. To be honest, at the time, I was not exactly sure what a blog was. I had heard of blogs, but I never really did anything with them. Although, I was not exactly sure of what this was all about, as I customarily do, I readily agreed. And I am glad I did because I think we can have a lot of fun with this blog.
I am planning on keeping this blog fresh and interesting. I am hoping to post two to three entries a week that will focus mostly on handicapping races, handicapping theory, promotions at the track, national stories related to Delaware Park and some history of this track. I am also hopeful I will be able to attract special guest bloggers from time to time such as other Delaware Park offcials and also some jockeys and trainers. I would also like to keep this blog as interactive as possible so I can learn from you the readers on how we can make this blog better and how we can make Delaware Park racing even more interesting and attractive.
Good luck and good racing
Racing Information Coordinator
Delaware Park Racetrack, Slots, and Golf
The future for Old Fashioned is bright
After posting an impressive score in the Remsen Stakes, Old Fashioned made it clear that he has the ability and talent to carry on the tradition of Delaware Valley success in the Triple Crown events. Whether or not the brilliant son of Unbrilded's Song can further develop into a professional and also avoid injury to join the echelon of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Barbaro, Hard Spun and Eight Belles is yet to be seen.
But, the Kentucky-bred locally owned by Richard Porter's Fox Hill Farms has done everything right so far and there is every reason to believe he will continue his development towards the Kentucky Derby. He has won the all three of his outings by a combined margin of nearly 23-lengths. His only close race came in his career debut when he won by a nose going six furlongs in a Delaware Park maiden. Sunday Blitz (second) and Doc's Friend (third) both exited that race to post impressive maiden victories themselves. Old Fashioned served notice of his talents in his next outing when he notched a 15 ½-length score over eight allowance rivals in a one mile race at Delaware Park. His most recent win in the mile and an eighth Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct validated his worthiness with an easy under wraps victory. The $800,000 yearling purchase could not be in more capable hands then his locally-based trainer J. Larry Jones who knows what it takes to get a horse to Kentucky Derby ready for a peak performance.
Delaware Park's leading rider Ramon Dominguez is coming off a big weekend. On Saturday, the 33-year-oldnativeof Caracas, Venezuela won the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct aboard Old Fashion. The 2-year-old son by Unbrilded Belle drewaway from his rivals with ease before winning by daylight. On Sunday, Dominguez won the Matriarch and Hollywood Derby in California. Ramon has not decided yet on his plans for the 2009 racing season.