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May 10, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Delaware Park gets to 75

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - It wasn't that long ago that Delaware Park was on the verge of going the way of many racetracks. The 1980s were a difficult decade for the facility located between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Hard times hit Delaware Park especially hard with the declining interest in the Sport of Kings. The Wilmington track had to discontinue stakes, including the Delaware Oaks, for a period of time and purses were not inviting to bigger stables.

Since the advent of casino gambling more than 15 years ago, Delaware Park has not only been able to remain open, but thrive with larger purses.

Saturday marks the beginning of the 75th season of racing at the historic track, where horses such as Spectacular Bid and Harve de Grace were regular entries.

John Mooney, executive director of racing, was ebullient when talking about the upcoming race meet and important off-season changes.

"Very pleased to say that we have our leading trainers from last year back," Mooney said. "I feel we are going to have a very, very competitive trainer category again this year.

"The main track has been completely refurbished. We have a new surface on it, improved drainage. I think we're going to have some excellent racing over it this year. We've redone the training track, which you know was severely damaged last year by Hurricane Irene."

The one race at Delaware Park that has been conducted every race meet has been the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap (Del 'Cap) for older fillies and mares. From 1937 through 1954 the race was known as the New Castle Handicap and for a few of the tough years - 1983-85 - the Del 'Cap was held at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.

"The Del 'Cap is a race I will always hold in a very high regard because of that," said two-time winning jockey Ramon Dominguez. "I can tell you this, I always look forward to the race, and right around Del 'Cap time I am always looking for the filly who hopefully can take me there and win the race again. It is very special race, and, hopefully, we can continue to have success in the race."

Dominguez won his first Del 'Cap with Irving's Baby in 2001 and then six years later aboard Unbridled Belle.

"That was another special moment in my career," Dominguez said about his second Del 'Cap victory. "Unbridled Belle ended up being a very nice filly, and she went on to win a Grade I. I had already won the Delaware Handicap with Irving's Baby, but I really felt like I needed to redeem myself. A few years before, I lost by a nose aboard the Graham Motion-trained filly Your Out, and I really felt like I needed to redeem myself. It was nice to win again, especially because of that."

That disappointing loss came the year following Dominguez's win with Irving's Baby. Summer Colony nosed out Your Out as the even-money favorite.

"Her race was one of those things," the award-winning rider said. "Nobody likes to lose, but we were proud of her performance. I personally rode her for pretty much her whole career, and I did not think she could get the mile and a quarter and she definitely proved me wrong. It took a very nice filly in Summer Colony to beat her that day. After the race, especially with as small a margin as it was, it always makes you second-guess. But my filly ran a superb race as well."

Most recently, Dominguez was the regular rider for 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. Last year, the Fox Hill Farm's filly led the entire way until arch rival Blind Luck caught her at the wire to give Dominguez and his mount another nose loss.

"Oh, that was a tough one, very tough," he said. "Especially, because Havre de Grace ran so hard for so long, but it took a very special filly to beat her that day. They were great rivals, and the difference between them in most of their races was the smallest of margins. But it was a tough defeat because I felt like Havre de Grace was better than anybody else. But it leaves me once again with that feeling that I want to win the Delaware Handicap even more so now."

Delaware Park's 75th anniversary season will be highlighted by the $750,000 Del 'Cap on Saturday, July 21.

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