Jul 16th 2009 02:00 am |
This weekend marks the high point of Delaware Park’s racing year. Three stakes, including the Delaware Oaks, will be run on Saturday. On Sunday, the marquee event on Delaware’s racing calendar, the Delaware Handicap, will be contested. Historically, these races have attracted a small army of end-of-year champions.
Image: Del ‘Cap Day, July 28, 1962 (Delaware Historical Society)
High class racing for fillies and mares has been a mainstay at Delaware Park since its founding. On May 29, 1937 – just a few weeks prior to the first opening day – the Daily Racing Form printed this story about the Delaware stakes program and its unique emphasis on racing for the fairer sex (or is it gender?):
“Profitable racing all over the country is provided for two year old fillies in such specials as the Clipsetta Stakes at Latonia, the Arlington Lassie at Chicago, the Spinaway at Saratoga, the Matron at Belmont Park, and the Selima at Laurel. And ‘Oaks’ races everywhere along with Alabama’s and Acorn’s etc. are revived annually for three-year-old fillies.
“But for many years, runners of the miscalled softer sex – the sex of Top Flight, Imp, Miss Woodford, Beldame, Firenze, Cleopatra, and Artful – have been neglected. The older mares have had to do their running with stallions and generally they have been outmatched.
“To the extent that one organization promoting racing can rectify this neglect it is adjusted in the stakes program of the Wilmington Steeplechase and Race Association for the inaugural meeting at Delaware Park which will begin June 26 and continue through July 24 with a daily purse distribution of upward of 10,000…”
“…Until the entries are in it will not be possible to say what mares may participate in the first running of this unique special [$10,000 New Castle Handicap], but it is safe to predict that the best fillies and mares, three years old and over, which raced last season, will be nominated with the winners this year of the Oaks races of Maryland, Kentucky, and New York, also of three-year-old fillies which have not won Oaks races, but have otherwise demonstrated fitness to compete.”
The success of the track’s founders to establish a venue for high caliber racing for the “girls” is evident in the number of champions who have competed over the oval at Delaware. Below is a list of champion 3-year-old fillies and handicap mares who raced at Delaware Park for the years 1938 to 2008:
In 1953, the purse for the New Castle Handicap (it became the Delaware Handicap in 1955) reached $100,000 and became the richest race in the world for older females. I wrote last year about the evolution of racing for fillies and mares at Delaware and an attempt to establish a racing series (The Distaff Big Three) in the 1950s.
Parlo won the Delaware Oaks in 1954
(Delaware Historical Society)
The 1980s and early 1990s were periods of struggle for Delaware Park. A renewed stakes program infused with slot dollars revived the tradition of classy fillies and mares competing over the track. Last year, Proud Spell became the first filly champ to win the Oaks since Desert Vixen in 1973. In 2006, Fleet Indian won the Del Cap on her way to being awarded Handicap Mare.
Image: Proud Spell into the winner’s circle after the 2008 Delaware Oaks
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
A big thank you to the Delaware Historical Society for allowing me to use their images. They own a significant collection of images documenting the history of Delaware Park from the late 1940s to early 1970s.
The 1937 article came from an online edition of the Daily Racing Form. This is a project that I read about awhile back and am thrilled that they have made the first phase available. While it is still a work in progress, this is a tremendously exciting resource – check it out here. Thanks to John from The Race is Not Always to the Swift who made the discovery and shared the link.
I have been assisting Dana from Green But Game on a new project to document Thoroughbred Racing’s Omni-Surface Stars. More to come on this in a future post…
I am going to be out of town for Del Cap weekend. Sorry to miss it — hope the folks at Delaware Park have good weather, big crowds, and great racing.
Be sure to check out the new website for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!