Delaware Park: Summertime meeting still requires year-round effort
by Doug McCoy
While the temperature hovers around zero and local residents worry about clearing their driveways and walkways, over at Delaware Park they’re already hard at work preparing for live racing this summer at this historic venue.
Maintaining a racing program is a year-round endeavor, even for a track like Delaware, which runs an 81-day, warm-weather meeting.
Among the keys, even this far out, are building the first condition book and recruiting stables. In the past few seasons Mooney and his racing department staff have been successful in bringing new outfits to Delaware, and in about a month the Mooney road show will be taking off again.
“Once we get approval from the Delaware State Racing Commission for our dates we’ll put our first condition book together. Once we’ve done that we’ll head out on the road and visit tracks and training centers,” executive director of racing John Mooney explained. “We’ll spend a couple of weeks in Florida, probably a week in Louisiana, then we’ll spend some time in Hot Springs (Arkansas), and also spend time in Kentucky. We had a few outfits come in from Kentucky last season, including Tom Vance’s stable, and we’d like to see if there are some other people from that area that would like to come and race with us.”
Mooney says the industry-wide shortage of racing stock makes it tougher every year to build a horse population that will support a race meeting but feels Delaware Park still has a place in the Mid-Atlantic racing scene.
“With our Delaware-Certified (Thoroughbred) Program offering bonus money and our location not far from a number of tracks in the area, we feel we can offer a racing program that’s attractive to horsemen,” he explained. “And if there are stakes in the area they’re close enough to ship to those tracks.”
Last year Delaware Park was put in tenuous position when track superintendent Ken Wilson resigned his position and took a job with the New York Racing Association midway through the meeting. That move left Delaware Park without a track super, and there was a good bit of scrambling involved in maintaining the dirt track and keeping the surface safe and uniform for racing and training. The track managed to finish the live meeting without incident, but management and horsemen alike knew finding a new track superintendent was a top priority.
This week Mooney reported that veteran trackman Carl Kloentrup had signed on as the new track superintendent.
“Carl visited last month, looked over our operation, and recently we came to terms to sign him to oversee maintenance of the main track and training track,” Mooney said. “Carl’s worked at several tracks, and we worked together for a time at Colonial Downs. He brings a strong background in the business and we feel his experience will pay off and we will be able to have a safe and consistent surface for training and racing this year and in the future.”
Kloentrup went to work on January 2. and one of his first projects will be overseeing repairs and renovations on the backstretch.
“The backstretch housed horses until the end of the year, so now that they’ve shipped out we’ll go through the barn area and make whatever repairs and renovations that are needed,” Mooney added.
Of course horsemen are always planning ahead and we spoke with several trainers as to what they were looking for from Delaware Park for those racing here this summer.
One of those horsemen is Mike Gorham, a Delaware Park regular and past president of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association. One of his main concerns regarding this season involved the track superintendent situation, and he was pleased someone had been hired to that post.
“The racing surface and its maintenance is one of the most important areas horsemen are concerned about. I thought the previous super did a good job with the surface and I thought the track last meeting before he left was safe, uniform and for the first time in a long time, had no pronounced bias for speed or closers,” the trainer observed. “I think most horsemen want a track that plays fair in the afternoon and is also safe to train over in the morning.”
As to things he would like to see from the racing department Gorham said one of the main gripes from his fellow trainers involves using, or not using, races that are in the condition book.
“It’s almost impossible to train a horse if you can’t train that horse up to a race that’s in the book,” Gorham pointed out. “The racing office often wants to ignore the races in the book and have us run a horse in a race where they don’t belong just to fill a race. Trainers want to win races and point horses for spots where their horses belong and not just a race to fill up a spot.”
Even while the rest of us are salting our steps and scraping the ice off our windshields, at Delaware Park they’re already in action so that when the flowers bloom, the historic oval will come to life once again with live racing.