With a widespread consciousness among racing people that today's tracks must be improved to meet the exacting demands of horsemen and fans alike and that tomorrow's tracks must be "super" in every respect, it is good to know that planners for the future won't quite have to start from scratch. They might, I think, learn a good deal by examining the layouts at Delaware Park and Monmouth Park, two plants efficiently run by sincere horsemen who have spared no effort to present the best possible racing in localities where it once was difficult to foresee any major racing at all.
The visitor to both these courses will immediately be impressed by the atmosphere of comfort and convenience which, while blazingly conspicuous at some other U.S. tracks, was hardly a point of eastern pride until the last decade. Clubhouses and Turf Clubs, to be sure, have always been in existence. But today grandstand patrons get the best view and eat the same good food as club members. A setup which accepts them as desirable guests is one of the primary reasons why increasing thousands of eastern city dwellers are taking their money and their hunches into the Delaware and New Jersey countryside.
Delaware Park is located seven miles southwest of Wilmington in beautiful, rolling country; Monmouth is situated near the ocean on what used to be a swamp at Oceanport. At both tracks the accent is definitely on special care—for the fan, for the horses, for the jockeys and even for the usually neglected stable hands. The latter are provided with dormitories and every imaginable recreational facility including movies and organized softball leagues. The jockeys' quarters at Monmouth, complete with a Finnish-type "sauna" hot room, may be the finest building of its sort in the country.
Delaware's emergence as a leading track is hardly a matter of simple good luck. Instead it is the product of careful planning by members of the Du Pont family who started the track in-1937 largely with steeplechasing in mind. From the start it has operated on a nonprofit system in which returns are quickly reinvested in the physical property (one example: the development by Photographic Director Lester Bernd of high-speed film patrol equipment which processes film in a record 48 seconds) or are added to the total purse distribution. Today's directors include two Du Ponts and more than a dozen other men who agree that they wouldn't want racing in Delaware unless the sport could be maintained at the highest possible level. Keeping it at that level involves meeting—and combating—fierce competition from New York and New Jersey.
"We are in a tough spot," says Vice-President and General Manager Bryan Field, "because of the existence of the 'circuit system.' You find your organized circuits everywhere—in Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California. Then, in addition to all your circuits, you have us—Delaware Park—competing for the best horses to come to a track which admittedly is off the beaten path."
One method by which Delaware has kept up with the opposition (and also upheld the original precepts of the track's breeding-conscious founders) is to offer a quarter of a million dollars this year to winners of three individual stakes for fillies and mares only. The climax to this series, known as The Distaff Big Three, is this week's Delaware Handicap at a mile and a quarter for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward for an estimated gross of $150,000—making it the richest race in the world for the distaff side. There were no fewer than 156 nominees for this rich stake, and if, as is expected, some 20 answer the call to the post, they will likely include such proven runners as Parlo, Cerise Reine, Gainsboro Girl, Lavender Hill and High Voltage.
Monmouth Park, now in its 10th year of operation under Amory Haskell (who is also the president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association), isn't staging any $150,000 stakes at the moment. However they've got a little $15,000 number—known as the Tyro Stakes—on the Fourth of July, which might turn out to be as exciting a two-year-old race as you'll find all season. The big attraction will be the meeting between Polly's Jet, unbeaten in all six of his starts, and Decathlon, victorious in all four of his. I daresay the winner of this five-and-a-half-furlong "natural" may rightfully be able to lay early claim to the two-year-old championship.