05/15/2014 7:03AM

Delaware Park opens with focus on 3-year-olds, overnight stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Larry Jones returns to Delaware this summer after spending the last two summers in Kentucky.

Larry Jones is back, Pat Pope is gone, and the summer horse population could swell, with more horses than usual making their way north from Maryland as Delaware Park launches its 77th season of live racing Saturday.

Much like a year ago, the 2014 season will be a relatively short 81 days, and the stakes schedule has shrunk by three races and $250,000 in purse money since 2013. But there are some positive changes as well.

First, high-profile trainer Jones returns to make Delaware his base after spending the last two summers in Kentucky. Jones, still recovering from injuries sustained in a training accident last month, will have 54 horses stabled on the grounds, including almost 30 2-year-olds. Being based at Delaware will give Jones more options in terms of shipping to other Mid-Atlantic tracks to find races for all his young horses.

Second, Delaware has turned to Jed Doro, 34, as its new racing secretary. He replaces Pope, who left to return to his former summer job as racing secretary at Prairie Meadows.

Doro, who spent six years as assistant racing secretary at Delaware, said one of his goals is to expand the number of races for 3-year-olds. Another is to offer ample opportunities for the better horses on the grounds to run in a series of $50,000 overnight stakes.

“I’m going to try and promote 3-year-old racing,” Doro said. “It’s sometimes difficult, but I’m going to try to fill races for the better 3-year-olds that we have.”

To supplement the 12 regular stakes on the schedule, there will be a liberal sprinkling of overnight stakes, mostly on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The first of those will come Wednesday with the Winter Melody for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles.

“We have 13 overnight stakes carded so far,” Doro said. “We want to support the local horsemen by giving them a place to run their better horses without having to ship out of town.”

Doro said several of the overnight stakes will be run on Wednesdays and Thursdays, days that have shown strong business.

Delaware might also benefit from the ongoing dispute between horsemen and management at Colonial Downs. If there is no racing in Virginia, more horses than usual could venture to Delaware during June, July, and August.

“Maryland horsemen always participate in Delaware racing after Pimlico closes,” Doro said. “If Colonial doesn’t run, then those horsemen are going to have to find another place to run, and Delaware is the closest place they can go.”

Entries were relatively light for opening day, with just 67 horses for seven Thoroughbred races and one Arabian race. Doro is optimistic that field size will grow with the opening of the turf course May 24 and more horses arriving from such major outfits as leading trainer Jamie Ness.

As usual, the jewels of Delaware’s meet will be run on back-to-back weekends in July, with the Grade 2, $300,000 Delaware Oaks on July 5 and the Grade 1, $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 12.

Delaware also will offer seven graded stakes for Arabians, including the Grade 1 Buzz Brauninger Distaff Handicap on the Delaware Oaks undercard and the Grade 1 Delaware Park Classic Handicap on the Delaware Handicap program.

Among the new trainers to Delaware this season are Will VanMeter, son of noted consignor Tom VanMeter; Alexander Cleveland Delp, son of 11-time leading Delaware trainer Bud Delp; Maryland horseman Wayne Potts; and Aldana Gonzalez, who trains a string for Canadian owner Bruno Schickedanz.