Miss Marissa
Miss Marissa won the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park. Photo Allison Janezic.

Note: The sale of Delaware Park to an investment group was announced Nov. 5, ending 38 years of Rickman family control. Our Mike Valiante reached out to representatives of both the Clairvest Group, which declined to comment, and Rubico Racing, which did not respond. Here, he offers his thoughts to the new owners.

Dear new owners of Delaware Park,:

Welcome to Delaware! More specifically, welcome to Delaware Park racetrack, which as you know, has served as a racing venue since 1937. 

The intent of this letter is to give you the view of a horseplayer with nearly a half-century of experience at Delaware Park.  I won’t assume that I know more than your personnel, given your extensive background in casino and racetrack investment. 

I will suggest, however, that the customer is the key to any business and that a customer-centric view of any business can only be achieved by talking and listening to patrons. I hope that your plans do include growing the racing business at Delaware Park, so allow me the chance to point out a few things that may not be on your radar presently.

Everyone is aware of the challenges of running a racetrack. These include declining foal crop numbers, lots of competition for the gambling dollar, the opportunity cost of utilizing sizable amounts of real estate in urbanized areas, and the negative views of horse racing held by many in the general public. 

More on the sale:

With all that said, Delaware Park possesses some assets that many other tracks do not.

It is one of the most picturesque racetracks in the nation.  The trees and layout of the paddock with the accompanying picnic grounds will allow you to offer a scenic oasis to the fans. More importantly, group events can be hosted there with an opportunity for you to expose the attendees to the beauty — and the gambling opportunities — of the sport. 

I can tell you that 95% of the first-time customers I bring to the track comment that they never knew that the facility was so expansive and beautiful.

The population of New Castle County (approximately 560,000) is large enough, but paradoxically the menu of local resort activities is currently limited because we are not a major metropolitan area. Although you did not purchase the golf course, the property has enough space to house a luxury hotel, family amusement center, or large nightclub.  All of these are currently missing from the local scene and could be profit centers while adding to the foot traffic of the racetrack.

The track is located in the heart of the mid-Atlantic region which has a long history in horse racing and is within driving distance of four major metropolitan areas. While that poses obvious challenges, it also provides many opportunities.

I believe the track can take steps both to attract new bettors and to cultivate existing ones, and that these steps would impact the bottom line.

Marketing and initiatives to bring in and more importantly educate new bettors would be useful. New bettors are the sport’s bridge to the future. But betting on horses is a complicated game; anything the track can do to make it easier for new players to understand, and to help them improve, should help the bottom line.

Horse group ownership for small investors could also be a good marketing tool for a mid-level track like Delaware Park. Canterbury Park pioneered local racing clubs, and they provide a good way to connect fans to the track.

Racetracks generally haven’t done enough to cultivate their existing clientele, and I believe Delaware Park could take a lead role in this regard.

The rewards program, customer promotions and attention to the patron at Delaware Park aren’t bad, but they all could be greatly improved.  When I go to Las Vegas, my level of play gets me a comped room and a free meal. At Delaware with that same level of play, I don’t even bother using my “player’s card” because the rewards are rather pedestrian. 

Similarly, my level of betting on ADW sites provides me with four-figure rebates.  That same level of play at Delaware Park would earn me a few meals.  There is a “VIP room” at the track that does not have the look or the feel of anything special.  That may be because there are not enough high rollers to support the expense of such a room, or perhaps high rollers are not being enticed to come. This is one of those “chicken and egg” questions I hope you can resolve.

To be fair, the pandemic has forced Delaware Park, like many businesses, to deal with unforeseen staffing and supply challenges. That reveals itself in issues like bathrooms running out of toilet paper and trash cans overflowing. Delaware Park had long been meticulously clean, and it would be great to see it reach that level of cleanliness again.  

Once again, welcome! You’ve purchased a true gem in the horse racing industry, and I, and many others, look forward to many more years of live racing at Delaware Park.

Your friend,