by Doug McCoy
Delaware Park’s new racing secretary Jed Doro was candid earlier this month when he discussed with The Racing Biz what the fans and bettors could expect during the early stages of the new meeting,
”There will be some small fields, I won’t deny that,” Doro had admitted, “We’re in a pitched battle for horses, as are most of the tracks in this area, and we’re just going to have to do the best we can with what we’ve got until Pimlico’s meeting closes.”
To the credit of Doro and his staff, the first five racing programs have been surprisingly solid. True, there have been some small fields, but that is to be expected in this day and age. On the plus side there have been more large fields than there were this time last season, and some of the smaller fields, like Wednesday’s fourth race, have been extremely well matched and competitive. Bettors don’t mind a seven horse field if the longest shot in the group is 10-1 or 12-1, and there have been several races with that type of parity thus far at Delaware this season.
And the improved quality of the programs point out the fact that when it comes to giving fans and bettors a juicy menu to choose from on a given day, more is often not better. A card of seven Thoroughbred races and one Arabian race can include enough opportunities for the seasoned gambler, one who is more likely to “shop” the card and pick prime wagering scenarios.
For example, on Wednesday a total of 61 horses raced at Delaware Park. There was a three horse field that was brought about after two horses were scratched late, but the eight-race program also featured races with 12, 11, and nine horses and two races with eight. Even with the short race, that’s an average of 7.6 horses per race.
By comparison, the next day at Belmont, a total of 63 horses started in a nine race program — just 7.0 per race. While there were two races with 10-horse fields and another with eight, the card also had four races with six or fewer horses, including a four-horse event.
And it should be noted that Thursday’s purses at Belmont ranged from $28,000 to $85,000 per race, while Delaware Park’s purses on Wednesday’s seven Thoroughbred races ranged from $15,000 to $50,000.
Racing in this country still could learn a lot from how the sport is conducted in Europe where the more prestigious the race meet, the more the emphasis is placed on quality over quantity. For example most of the cards at the Royal Ascot meeting, considered by many to be the best week of racing presented on the planet, are no more than eight races. Instead of ramming 13 or 14 races down the players’ throats trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the bettor because of the draw of major stars, Ascot presents a select card with good races from start to finish for five days — and the racing takes place over just three hours (2:30 to 5:30).
In the US, on the other hand, both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness cards started before 11:00 a.m. and ended at nearly 7:00 p.m. And the Belmont Stakes card starts at 11:35 a.m. and doesn’t end until after 8:00 p.m.
APPRENTICE RIDERS TRY TO FOLLOW CARRASCO’S SUCCESS
Victor Carrasco used Delaware Park as a springboard to the national spotlight last season when the then-apprentice rider won 90 races during the 81-day meeting en route to a season that saw him capture 215 races and win an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top apprentice jockey.
Apparently Carrasco’s roadmap to stardom has prompted several other young riders to try to kickstart their careers at this season’s Delaware Park meeting. On Wednesday no fewer than seven apprentices were named on horses for the eight-race program.
Carrasco’s rise to success was followed in a lot of places, not the least of which was the neighborhood where the rider grew up in Puerto Rico. One of his friends from home, Fray Martinez, avidly followed the news from the U.S. and Delaware Park last summer; and this winter he contacted the Eclipse Award winner asking for his help to come to the U.S. and get his own career started.
Carrasco put Martinez in touch with his own agent, Tom Stift, who had played a pivotal role in Carrasco’s march to the top last year. Stift agreed to handle Martinez’ business, and the young rider came to this country earlier this year. He has won 40 races this season, including five at Pimlico from 25 mounts before moving to Delaware Park.
Martinez suffered a concussion Wednesday after his mount in the second race, Master Zeus, suddenly ducked in while leading in mid-stretch of a seven-and-a-half furlong turf race and ran through the inner rail. Stift reports his rider is expected to be cleared by doctors Monday to return to action. Master Zeus reportedly did not suffer any significant injury.
Speaking of Carrasco, the young native of Puerto Rico has already shown he’s not one of those jockeys who light up the racing world during their apprenticeships then disappear from sight when they lose that all-important five-pound allowance. Coming into Saturday’s action, Carrasco, who became a journeyman rider in mid-January, has already won 81 races during the first five months of 2014. He is likely to finish second, to apprentice Trevor McCarthy, in the Pimlico spring standings. According to his agent Tom Stift, Carrasco will be back to ride full time at Delaware when the Pimlico meeting concludes next month.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer Larry Jones is moving slowly and admittedly still has a pretty good hitch in his getalong as he continues to recover from a spill on the Delaware backstretch six weeks ago. But there was nothing slow about one of Jones’s up-and-coming youngsters named General Ike.
General Ike, a Quiet American colt who had been rank and uncooperative early in his career, made his sixth start on May 21, and apparently the removal of blinkers and having the rider race without a whip made General Ike a happy camper as the colt smoked through an opening six furlongs in 1:10.76, then drew off through the lane to be more than seven lengths clear of the field while covering the mile and 70 yards in 1:39.37.
The effort earned General Ike a Beyer Speed figure of 92. Rick Porter seems to favor crack milers like Quiet American when breeding his own stock and making purchases at the sales, and his success with such runners as Hard Spun and Eight Belles buoys the logic to that approach.
On the turf side perhaps the most attractive young runner to leave the winless ranks thus far this meeting on the green is Wave the Flag from the H. Graham Motion barn. Wave the Flag is out of the stakes winning mare Dancing General by Empire Maker and looked very professional running down the leader late to capture a mile and 70 yard maiden special weight route.