06/01/2017 9:40AM

Delaware Park meet opens with few changes

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Delaware Park will begin its 80th season Saturday. Like last year, the meet runs for 81 days, but it is opening and closing slightly later than usual.

Last year, the meet began on Preakness Day and concluded Oct. 15. This year’s stand will conclude Oct. 21. The change was made in an attempt to boost field size, according to John Mooney, the track’s director of racing.

“The potential starters per day has been increasingly becoming stronger later into the season with each passing year,” Mooney said in a press release.

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The stakes schedule is the same as in 2016. There will be 11 stakes worth a combined $2.05 million. The four graded stakes will be run on back-to-back weekends in July.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Delaware Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile race for fillies and mares, is scheduled for July 15. The card will include the Grade 3, $200,000 Kent, a 1 1/8-mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds, and two $50,000 overnight stakes.

The Grade 3, $300,000 Delaware Oaks is slated for July 8. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies will top a program with three other stakes – the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert Dick Memorial and a pair of $50,000 overnight stakes. The Dick Memorial is a 1 3/8-mile grass race for fillies and mares.

The third-richest day of the meet will be Owners Day on Sept. 30, when six restricted stakes worth a combined $500,000 will be held.

Carol Cedeno will shoot for her fourth consecutive riding title, having won the combined Thoroughbred/Arabian standings each year since 2014. The only riders to have won four or more titles at Delaware are Michael McCarthy, who topped the standings six times from 1996 to 2001, and Ramon Dominguez, who won five Delaware titles from 2003-08.

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Jamie Ness, who has won four of the last five training titles at Delaware, is back. Ness returned to action Tuesday after serving a 100-day suspension for a string of clenbuterol violations in Florida in 2012. The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering had more than 100 positives for clenbuterol that year after implementing a new standard for testing.

Other trainers with strong Delaware stables include Larry Jones, who won the Del Cap last year with I’m a Chatterbox; Scott Lake, who won seven consecutive titles at Delaware from 2001-07; and Keith Nations, who finished third in the 2016 standings in his first full season at Delaware.

Purses for the nine Thoroughbred races on the opening-day card total $173,000. The featured race is a second-level optional-claiming race at a mile and 70 yards. Favoritism is likely to go to Proud and Fearless, trained by Jones and to be ridden by Mitchell Murrill.