04/10/2013 1:59PM

Delaware Park cutting race days and stakes purses

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Delaware Park and its horsemen have agreed on a plan to cut 19 dates from its 2013 schedule and reduce the track’s stakes purses by more than half a million dollars, according to representatives of both sides.

Under a two-year contract that has an option for an additional year, Delaware Park and the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association agreed on a 2013 schedule from May 18 to Oct. 7, running Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Last year, the track ran 94 racing dates, with six canceled race cards for weather.

Bessie Gruwell, executive director of the horsemen’s association, said that recent declines in the foal crop and competition from other racing states convinced horsemen that dates needed to be reduced if Delaware is to present competitive race cards in a region of the country where a half-dozen tracks operate within 200 miles of each other in the summer.

“It just made sense to reduce the days,” Gruwell said.

Last year, all-sources average handle on Delaware’s cards dropped 16.3 percent from 2011, when the track ran 101 dates, according to figures from Delaware’s racing commission. Including handle on simulcasts, betting in the state dropped 22.1 percent.

John Mooney, Delaware Park’s executive director of racing, said the handle declines were partially attributable to a construction project on a local highway that closed the exit for the track. But he also said field size declines played a significant role, justifying the track’s decision to seek reduced dates in order to maintain an average daily purse distribution of $200,000, even with last year’s level.

“We feel it’s necessary to stay at that level if we’re going to be competitive in the mid-Atlantic market,” Mooney said.

Delaware’s statutes require the track to run at least 100 Thoroughbred race dates each year, but Gruwell said that all the horse racing constituencies in the state have agreed to support legislation suspending the requirement for the next three years. She said that legislators told racing constituents that they would pass the legislation as long as it had support.

In total, Delaware is going to distribute $2.35 million in stakes purses during the 2013 meet, down from $2.82 million last year. Four stakes were eliminated, while most of the purses for the remaining stakes were cut.

One race that was spared was the Delaware Handicap, which has featured some of the best females in the country over the past several years. The $750,000 stakes, which was designated a Grade 1 for this year, will be run July 20.