In the 74th renewal of the Grade II Delaware Handicap, California invader Blind Luck defeated her arch-rival and locally-based Havre de Grace by a nostril in what many have dubbed the “The Race of the Year.” Undeterred, Havre de Grace, who was stabled at Delaware Park, followed with a victory in the Woodward, against the boys at Saratoga, a win in the Beldame at Belmont and a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. If the 4-year-old daughter of Saint Liam owned by Wilmington, Delaware native Rick Porter and conditioned by Delaware Park regular J. Larry Jones is voted the Horse of the Year, she would become the first locally-based horse to achieve the honor since Spectacular Bid won the award in 1980.
“Not only do I think the Delaware Handicap was the ‘Race of the Year,’ but it may have been the most exciting Delaware Handicap I have seen in the nearly four decades I have been involved with Delaware racing,” said Mooney. “Havre de Grace and Blind Luck were the two best horses in racing and they showed why in the race. I applaud the connections of both horses for making that memorable moment possible for all racing fans.”
Other memorable on-track moments include Union Rags and Grace Hall breaking their maidens at Delaware Park.
In his career debut, Union Rags, owned by Chester County native Phyllis Wyeth and conditioned by Michael Matz, broke his maiden going five furlongs at Delaware Park on July 12. The Kentucky-bred son of Dixie Union followed by winning the Grade II Saratoga Special, the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and by running second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
In her career debut, Grace Hall, locally owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and The Elkstone Group and conditioned by Delaware Park regular Anthony Dutrow, broke her maiden going six furlongs at Delaware Park on July 30. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Empire Maker followed by winning the Grade I Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga, the $75,000 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park, and by running second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs.
Jockey Joseph Rocco Jr. enjoyed a milestone meet. Rocco won his first ever riding title by recording 94 wins. The race for leading trainer was captured by Juan Vasquez for the second straight season by posting 61 wins. Midwest Thoroughbreds won the leading owner title for the second consecutive season by notching 47 wins.
For the first time since 2008, the average all sources handle per day was down. The 101-day 2011 live racing season ended with an average all sources handle per day of $1,483,786. The 113-day 2010 live racing season ended with an average all sources handle per day of $1,602,401, reflecting a decrease of 7.4%.
“We had been very fortunate to post handle gains in 2009 and 2010 even though we were faced with increased competition and the challenges of a slow economy,” said John Mooney, the Executive Director of Racing. “Faced with even more competition and the still sluggish economy, we were not surprised by the decrease in handle this year. Moving forward into the 2012 season, we are going to re-evaluate every aspect of our live racing product to ensure we have exciting and quality racing for our 75th anniversary season.”