With the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in the world of thoroughbred racing over the past three months, Delaware Park opened its 83rd season of racing near Wilmington last week and to say they were successful is an understatement.
Wednesday’s opening day 10-race card, highlighted by longshot winner Lucky Move in the $100,000 Obeah Stakes, saw $2,978,879 wagered on the Stanton oval which was a welcome sight to The First State faithful. In comparison, when Delaware Park opened two years ago on a Wednesday, the non-pandemic betting handle was $2,087,072.
“Things have been really hectic and things have been pretty fluid but we were very happy with the opening day card from the way the betting public responded to our large and competitive fields,” said Chris Sobocinski, Delaware Park’s racing information coordinator. “On-track, everybody was happy and excited to have live racing back with spectators.”
Both inside and outside attendance was capped at 3,000 with the grandstand seating area on-site closed to the public. All safety protocols, including social distancing and wearing of a mask, were also implemented.
Everyone that entered the track’s clubhouse had their body temperature taken with a touchless, handheld thermometer or a thermal imaging device. Anyone with a temperature of 99.5 degrees or higher was not permitted inside. Those entering the track were also asked if they had COVID-19 symptoms or been in close contact with anyone in the previous 14 days who had tested positive. Anyone with symptoms had to leave the grounds. Safety procedures were also in place for the jockeys, such as limiting entrance to the paddock and winner’s circle.
The track was the third in the country to allow fans on-site. Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas allowed spectators on June 14 and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City allowed limited spectators as well.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia had live attendance starting with Monday night’s card.
Delaware Park’s opening day was supposed to begin May 27 with 85 racing days through October 31, before the start was delayed and pushed back because of COVID-19 limitations. The 65-day meet will now run through Oct. 17, with live racing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Thursday racing will start on July 16-Oct. 1 with all daily post times scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. PT. The track had been open for simulcasting since June 4.
“We followed with a spectacular Saturday with a combined handle of $2,006,000 which included the simulcast of the Belmont Stakes. So for the first two days, the public responded with over $5 million wagered,” said Sobocinski. “Obviously after two days, we had some areas we were very pleased with regarding the protocols and we also had some areas of concern, but as of today (Monday, June 22) we have not announced any changes or additional protocols.”
What about the track’s on-site William Hill sports book, located on the second floor of the racetrack’s clubhouse?
“The sports book is not currently open because of the uncertainty surrounding so many mainstream sports due to the coronavirus pandemic and when it actually reopens mostly depends upon when those mainstream sports will return,” said Sobocinski.
And with the announcement late Monday night that one of those mainstream sports — Major League Baseball — might be back pending the players’ approval to proceed with a 60-game season based on a previous March agreement, that could be sooner than later. Fingers crossed.