The horses were back on the track, and maybe more importantly for the bottom line, spectators returned to Delaware Park for the first time since the coronavirus delayed the start of the season.
Hundreds of race fans turned out on a cloudy but pleasant afternoon for a very different opening-day celebration. Spectators hoping to go inside the clubhouse or sit in the grandstands had to have their temperatures checked and were required to wear masks.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, but everyone I’ve talked to today is very excited to just be back,” said Kevin DeLucia, chief financial officer and senior vice president at Delaware Park. “They love horse racing, and they’re glad to be back here.”
Under Phase 2 of Delaware’s reopening plan, the track is allowed to be at 60% of its maximum occupancy, which is about 3,000 people, DeLucia said.
“We have employees taking counts at two different entrances, so we’re capturing all the people coming inside,” he said.
Though the track had opened for spectators to watch simulcast races in early June, Wednesday marked the first live racing in Delaware since the coronavirus shut down all public events. Stephen DePasquale came from Williamstown, New Jersey, for the start of the season.
“It’s great to have racing back, to be outside,” he said. “If you stop thinking about the mask, it’s OK, because it’s become commonplace. Everybody seems to be respecting everybody else. It should be a fun day.”
The live racing season will continue on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday through Oct. 17. Races will also be held on Thursday from July 16 through Oct. 1. The season was shortened by just 20 days as a result of the delayed start.
The Belmont Stakes, traditionally the third leg of the Triple Crown, will be held this Saturday after both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore were postponed until September and October. DeLucia said those events typically boost attendance at Delaware Park.
“It is sad not to have the traditional Triple Crown,” he said. “I’m encouraged by today’s attendance that we have, and we’re looking forward and gearing up for Saturday and the Belmont.”