Even with daily average purses of $260,000, Delaware Park has often found it difficult this year to fill races, or often had races that filled but were decimated by scratches.
Chief operating officer Bill Fasy came up with a solution: an $8.4-million "full field festival" whereby owners would receive a $1,000 bonus July 7-31 if they entered a horse in a race that filled with eight or more uncoupled starters.
Racing at Delaware Park is bolstered by revenue from slot machines.
"Entries have been phenomenal," Delaware racing secretary Dan Eidson said. "The only drawback has been that we've had to refuse entries from some horses who obviously were not placed in their proper condition. That was a little tough telling the owners that their horses couldn't run, but we didn't want to jam up our cards with horses who had no chance. We also wanted to protect the betting public."
Eidson said the concept was well-received by owners and, though he couldn't speculate whether Delaware Park would try it again next year, he said it did attract some Maryland-based horses when Colonial Downs in Virginia opened.
"I told the horsemen, 'I live and die by this decision,' " Fasy said. "I said we have to do something for our racing, because it's in the dumps, and we need to liven this meet up. I believe the (festival) has been successful, and while I don't have the final figures, there's been more than a one-horse increase per race. With all the competition we have in the Mid-Atlantic region, that's great news."
Philadelphia Park general manager Jim Gagliano said his track, which competes with Delaware Park for horses, might consider a similar promotion if "we can fit it into our current purse structure. We're open to trying it, because increasing field sizes and giving our guests good betting opportunities is important to us."