06/04/2010 12:00AM

New Castle served as Delaware Handicap's predecessor


Delaware Park will host the 16th running of the Grade 3 Obeah Stakes this Saturday, the local prep for the signature race of the season, the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, to be run for the 73rd time on July 17.

The Obeah is named for the winner of the back-to-back runnings of the Delaware Handicap in 1969-70.

Obeah also had an outstanding career as a broodmare, producing three stakes winners by Northern Dancer in the 1970s. But her most outstanding offspring came when she was 22. Bred to Deputy Minister in 1986, Obeah dropped a bay filly who would later be named Go for Wand.

An Eclipse Award winner at both 2 and 3, Go for Wand suffered fatal injuries during a stretch battle with champion Bayakoa in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Delaware Park was once a prominent player on the East Coast racing circuit, but it began a slow decline in the 1970s. Financial problems finally forced the track to close its doors in 1982. It reopened a year later, but struggled until the state legislature in 1994 authorized slot machines at racetracks.

Test your knowledge of history of the track that is located near Wilmington, Del.

1. In 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and join the union. A little more than a year later, it became the first to pass legislation outlawing "horse racing, foot-races, cock fighting, and shooting matches." Gov. Joshua Clayton signed the bill into law in 1789 and for the next nearly 150 years, there would be no legal horse racing in "The First State."

The rebirth of Delaware as a racing state and the building of its first modern racetrack was primarily the work of one man whose family name is synonymous with the state itself. Name him.

2. For most of the early history of racing in America, after fillies completed their 3-year-old season, there were limited opportunities for them in stakes races.

With few stakes for older fillies and mares, the best older females each year were often forced to regularly compete against males. While tracks such as Santa Anita and Belmont Park began to address the issue as early as the late 1930s, stakes for older females remained slim until the 1950s.

Delaware Park, under general manager Bryan Field, a popular sports writer and broadcaster, boosted the purse for its New Castle Handicap for fillies and mares to $100,000 in 1953 -- making it the world's richest race for females. But as things turned out, it was won by a 3-year-old filly. Name her.

3. In 1955, Delaware Park renamed the New Castle Handicap the Delaware Handicap and raised the purse to $110,000. At the same time, it inaugurated another New Castle Stakes as a prep to the Del Cap. Promotion of the races was heavy and included polls of the greatest racemares of all time taken of members of the American Trainers Association. Fans were also invited to select their choices when the meeting opened.

Who did the trainers select as the greatest female runner in Thoroughbred racing history?

4. In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, the Delaware Handicap annually attracted some remarkable fillies and mares. Despite substantial increases in the purse of the event beginning in 1996 -- reaching $1 million in some years -- only two national champions have won the race in the past 30 years. Name the two most recent Delaware Handicap winners to have an Eclipse Award on their r sum s.

5. When Delaware Park was shuttered at the end of 1982, the track's owners did not want to see their most famous race go away, so arrangements were made for the event to continue. For the next three years, the Delaware Handicap was contested in another state before returning to Delaware Park in 1986. Where was its temporary home?


1. The history of the tiny state of Delaware owes much of it economic and industrial development to the

E.I. duPont de Nemours family, founders and scions of a chemical company (DuPont Co.) in 1802 that to this day is one of the world's largest.

William duPont Jr., a great-grandson of the founder, was the designer of more than 23 racecourses, including Fair Hill in Maryland. DuPont was also a member of the board of directors of DuPont Co. and president of Delaware Trust Co.

Using his power and prestige, duPont was instrumental in getting the state to set up the Delaware Racing Commission in 1933 and to grant that commission power to license parimutuel racetracks in 1935.

An avid racing fan, breeder, and owner, duPont bought land in Stanton, about seven miles south of Wilmington, and built Delaware Park.

More than 20,000 people were on hand for opening day, June 26, 1937. Even before it opened, Delaware Park was described by the New York Times as "one of the most beautiful [racetracks] in America."

2. Despite having been beaten by more than 13 lengths on May 30, 1953 in the Delaware Oaks against her own age group, Grecian Princess was favored against eight older females and one other 3-year-old filly in the $121,000 New Castle Handicap less than five weeks later. In between, Grecian Princess had captured the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Gazelle Stakes. She won the New Castle by one length and followed it up with a victory in the Monmouth Oaks, securing for herself the title of champion 3-year-old filly of 1953.

Grecian Princess raced 26 times the following two seasons, but was not the same and never again visited the winner's circle.

3. Gallorette, champion older mare of 1946, was voted by members of the American Trainers Association in 1955 as the greatest racemare of all time.

Trainers voting in the widely publicized Delaware Park poll tended, as would be expected, to vote for recent runners with whom they were familiar.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Twilight Tear, Regret, Top Flight, Miss Woodford, Busher, Beldame, Princess Doreen, Bewitch, and Imp.

Hall of Fame trainer Jim Fitzsimmons, 81 years old at the time, had seen most of the greats since the late 1800s. He had Miss Woodford, Imp, and Firenze -- all foaled in the 19th century -- as his first three choices.

Gallorette won only 21 of 72 lifetime starts in the 1940s, but more than 50 of her starts were against the best males of her era. In 1946, Gallorette beat males in the Metropolitan, Brooklyn (defeating Stymie), and Bay Shore handicaps. She retired in 1948 as the greatest money-winning female of all time.

4. Three-time national champions Cicada (1961-63) and Susan's Girl (1972-73 and 1975) each ran in the Delaware Handicap twice. Cicada finished second both times while Susan's Girl won both her appearances.

Other champions, such as Pucker Up (second in 1957), Old Hat (winner in 1964), and Open Fire (winner in 1966) also competed in the Delaware Handicap.

The two most recent champions to capture the Delaware Handicap were Relaxing, who came from 15 lengths back in 1981 to win by nearly three lengths en route to winning the Eclipse Award that year as outstanding older female, and Fleet Indian, who won the race in 2006, the same year she was voted champion older female.

5. Saratoga agreed to pick up the Delaware Handicap in 1983. Even though Delaware Park reopened the following year, its signature race remained at the Spa through 1985. When Delaware Park officials felt they were back on their feet, the race was brought home in 1986. While the Delaware Handicap was contested at Saratoga, it attracted two-time Eclipse Award winner Life's Magic in 1985. The best she could do was a third-place finish. The winners of the Delaware Handicap at Saratoga were May Day Eighty in 1983, Adored in 1984, and Basie in 1985.