At Delaware Park, combining autism awareness, horseracing

In a sport full of numbers – times and lengths and speed figures — Delaware Park and the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (DTHA) focused on a different number on Wednesday, July 26.

That number: 2.7. That’s the percentage of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control. On Wednesday, the track and horsemen teamed up for their first Autism Awareness day.

“We are hoping to make this an annual event and bring this issue to light,” said DTHA executive director Bessie Gruwell. She added it “was not uncommon to have afflicted children attend the races… They seem to love the horses so we thought it was an opportunity to combine autism awareness with the horse racing.”

Indeed, two of Delaware’s most prominent racing fans are autistic.

There was a raffle and merchandise available for fans who wanted to contribute to the cause. In addition, after the sixth race, the track and horsemen presented a $10,000 check to Autism Delaware.

Matt Halter, an autistic 22-year-old man, attends the races virtually every Saturday with his mother Megan and father Mike. Matt was given the honor of making the “riders up” call before the second race and announced the post parade information for the fourth race from the announcer’s booth.


Gruwell noted that Matt’s regular presence at the track was another reason this cause was taken up. Matt added, “I hope this event will spread awareness about autism to those who love horse racing.”

In the racing program Matt penned a tribute to his favorite jockey, Carol Cedeno. Matt gifted Carol with a blue puzzle piece pin that is the symbol of the organization Autism Speaks.  Matt wrote, “This pin serves as something special. When you wear this pin, please think of me and all the other people around the world that have been touched by autism.” 

Carter Ramey, another local racing fan who is on the autism spectrum, is about 10 years younger than Matt. He handled the “riders up” call for race 4.

Throughout the day it was a common sight to see patrons with an autism cap or ribbon. Action News (Channel 6 in Philadelphia) had a film crew at the track to capture some of the festivities.

Matt’s mom, Megan Dero Halter, said, “I am so thankful to everyone at Delaware Park who made this day so special to Matt and other young men like Carter.”

Gruwell said the mission of the day was to “create recognition of autism and take care of some of our fans.”

Given the money raised and the smiles on the faces of Matt and Carter, I would say, “Mission accomplished.”


  • Bessie Gruwell (left) with great-nephew Carter Ramey (right). Photo Mike Valiante.
  • Mike Halter, Matt Halter, Megan Halter, and Jean Halter. Photo Mike Valiante.
  • Matt Halter with members of Carol Ceden's family. Photo Mike Valiante.