Delaware Park, which was the early proving ground last season for four probable contenders in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I)--Afleet Alex, Bellamy Road, Closing Argument, and High Limit--will offer its first $1-million race during a 135-day meet that kicked off April 30.
Delaware Park chief operating officer Bill Fasy said during an April 27 press conference that the purse for the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) is being increased from $750,000 to $1 million. The Delaware Handicap, at 1 1/4 miles, is now the second-richest race in the country for fillies and mares behind the $2-million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles.
Two turf stakes--the Kent Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT) and the Robert G. Dick Breeders' Cup Handicap--will receive purse boosts as well. The Kent has been raised from $250,000 to $500,000, while the Robert G. Dick has been increased from $150,000 to $300,000.
Some cosmetic and structural improvements to the circa-1937 oval occurred over the winter, including a partial new roof and seats for the grandstand, plus the construction of box seating areas that include theater-type chairs. Several plasma televisions were installed for simulcasting, while two additional bunkhouses on the backstretch were built for workers.
"We remain committed to live horse racing in Delaware," Fasy said.
Delaware Park is one of the more established racinos in the United States, having had video lottery terminals since the mid-1990s. Purses last year averaged about $253,000 for a 134-day meet.
Fasy also said in mid-July a new wager, the "Choose Six," will be tested on-track. Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the bet allows players to wager on any six races on the program rather than be restricted to six consecutive races. It will have a guaranteed pot of $50,000 July 17, Delaware Handicap day.
The April 27 press conference was held at the White Clay Creek Country Club, which opened in December on track property. The club features a new 7,077-yard championship golf course that is expected to be open for play in June. The course was constructed by Delaware Park on land that previously had been farmed. It's located at the entrance to the racetrack.
Also in attendance at the press conference was jockey Jeremy Rose, who is scheduled to ride Cash is King Stable's Afleet Alex in the Derby. Rose, who rode his first race at Delaware in 2000 and was the leading rider in 2001, said if Afleet Alex repeats his winning effort in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II, "they'll have a tough time beating him" in the Kentucky Derby.
Rose plans to ride at Delaware in 2005.