A few weekends ago, I made my third visit to Delaware Park; I’d intended to post this then, but then the Derby happened…and then the Derby aftermath happened. My previous visits were on closing day in November of 2006 and on a Saturday in April of 2007. Each time, I was impressed with various elements of the physical plant, and less than excited about what was happening on the track.
Delaware Park is really beautiful. Better in April, certainly, than November, and better on a sunny day than on my cold, damp recent visit, but even in gloomy weather, the splendor of the track and its facilities is evident. Walking in from the parking lot, one enters the Grove, a beautifully landscaped picnic area on the clubhouse turn containing a play area for kids, a concession stand, a tent available for rental, picnic tables, and these amazing lamps.
To the left as one enters is the rightly-renowned paddock, as natural and functional as Pimlico’s is artificial and cramped. Unsurprisingly, it’s even more wonderful in person than it is on television, especially before and after the races, when visitors can surreptitiously wander in, sink toes into the lush emerald grass, and wander beneath the stately trees. (Don’t say you heard it from me.)
Much of the grandstand and clubhouse seems like a simulcaster’s paradise: multiple rooms of walls of televisions, facing a variety of tables and carrels, surrounded by concession stands of various sorts. And unlike many such venues, there’s natural light in every simulcast area (at least that I saw)—big windows with views of the outside. Even when the windows face away from the track, it’s easy to get from the simulcast area to live racing.
The clubhouse seems devoted largely to racing; though there’s a room with slot machines on an upper level of the clubhouse, patrons don’t need to walk through the slots area to get to the racing. In fact, it’s pretty easy at Del Park to ignore the casino part altogether; on my previous two visits, I never even saw the slots facilities.
Each part of the track is well-kept (though a part of the grandstand seems to be under construction), clean, and constructed with an eye to aesthetics. The place is immaculate: I’m not even sure that I saw cigarette butts anywhere, and there’s certainly not the prevalence of pigeon poop that I see at my local tracks. It also all looks really, really new: new landscaping, new seats, new brickwork.
We spent part of the day outside on the rail, gloomy though the weather was, and part in the clubhouse restaurant, which offers good food at reasonable prices; televisions at the tables; and a great view of the track. Above the windows, a row of televisions shows racing from around the country; our poor waitress would time her appearance so that she’d arrive between Delaware races, only to be ignored as we watched Pimlico or Aqueduct.
I suppose that I should talk a little about the racing, but there is almost nothing to say. OK, so it was a Sunday early in the meet, but still…Of nine races, four had fields of five or fewer, and three had six. I had hoped to make use of my long price in a short field theory, but only two winners paid double digits, and only two races were won by less than two lengths. Jeremy Rose had five winners and Rosemary Homeister, Jr. had three. Yawn. I did end up cashing one ticket, after getting a tip on a Steve Klesaris horse in the eighth.
The good company and spirit of adventure more than compensated for the grimness of the weather and the grimness of the racing, but I’d take a good long look at the weather and the card before heading back to Delaware Park. It’s an exceedingly pleasant place to spend the day, and the service everywhere was great, but two hours is a long way to drive to watch favorites in short fields win races in lousy weather. It would take only one or the other—good racing or good weather—to beckon me back down the Turnpike.
(Postscript: my distaste for those short fields has been mitigated by Spooky Mulder’s two recent victories at Delaware, both over just a few horses. OK, so go ahead and card a Spooky race…I’ll be there.)