04/28/2011 2:15PM

Delaware Park opening for 74th season


Opening day at Delaware Park will serve as an appetizer for the main course that will soon follow.

After a five-month break, live racing resumes Saturday with a 10-race card – nine for Thoroughbreds and the finale for Arabians – as Delaware launches its 74th season with festivities that include carnival-type activities and food in the picnic grove that overlooks the picturesque paddock. But there will be a one-week wait for the first stakes action and a little bit longer than that for the return of last year’s leading jockey, Rosie Napravnik.

After Saturday’s season opener, Delaware will be dark until the following Saturday, Kentucky Derby Day, when the Vince Moscarelli Memorial, which could attract the millionaire sprinter Fabulous Strike, begins a 22-race stakes schedule that will be highlighted by the Grade 2, $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 16 and the Grade 2, $300,000 Delaware Oaks on July 9.

Napravnik, who became the first female to finish as Delaware’s leading rider last year and followed up on her success by becoming the top jockey at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, is currently riding in Kentucky, where she will remain until after her mount aboard Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire in the Kentucky Derby. Napravnik then intends to ride full-time at Delaware.

“Delaware Park has been a track I can call home, because my family and friends are close to me and I feel like the East Coast is home for me, so I really feel like I will be coming home,” said Napravnik, 23, who grew up in New Jersey before launching her riding career in Maryland.

Although Napravnik won’t be riding Saturday, Juan Vazquez, last year’s leading trainer, will begin defense of his title by sending out five horses in four races, led by Marvel Wood (race 7), who won six in a row last season off a $5,000 claim in June.

Vazquez, who spent the winter at Gulfstream Park, said he is geared up for Delaware’s meet.

“While I was in Florida this winter, I focused on getting my horses ready, and I refreshed my stock,” said Vazquez, who first came to Delaware with four horses with his wife, Maria Virginia Pascual, in 2001 and begins the 2011 season with 54 horses on the grounds. “We claimed some horses to specifically bring to Delaware.”

Other top trainers who should make an impact at the meet include:

◗ Scott Lake, who won seven consecutive titles at Delaware between 2002 and 2008 before finishing second each of the last two years, has 30 horses stabled locally.

◗ Mike Stidham, who kept the bulk of his horses stabled at Arlington the past two years, has doubled the number of horses on the grounds at Delaware to 40.

◗ Larry Jones, back to training after a one-year retirement, has 38 horses locally, including Havre de Grace, who will be pointed to the Delaware Handicap.

Delaware has added a 50-cent pick five to its wagering menu and reduced the minimum bet for trifectas and pick threes to 50 cents. The minimums for pick fours and superfectas remains at 50 cents and 10 cents, respectively.