WILMINGTON, Delaware — It is, in a lot of ways, a journey back in time.
Back to the days when thoroughbred horse racing was as big as any professional sport in this country and when just about anyone with significant wealth was part of the game as an owner.
And so those parts of the racetrack where names like Vanderbilt, Whitney and others frequented, the aesthetics matched the social standing.
Paddock areas, where the rich could get up close with their equine athletes, were majestic. Adorned with trees and immaculately manicured.
That is what you see in the paddock area at Delaware Park to this day.
Pure majesty made for the Sport of Kings.
Towering trees with far reaching shade. A walking ring area as aesthetically pleasing as one could encounter at a horse track.
It is this track’s signature piece and there can’t be many synonymous with a racetrack that can compare.
Maybe, the San Gabriel mountains serving as the backdrop of Santa Anita Park in Southern California and the shrines of the sport in this country that are Saratoga on the East Coast and Del Mar on the west.
Other than that, it’s difficult to imagine a spot much prettier at the track than this paddock area.
“A lot of people believe that this is the most beautiful paddock area in the world,” said Chris Sobocinski, the track’s racing information coordinator. “I tend to agree with that. The beautiful trees, the grass and the open air make it unique. Not just the paddock itself, the grove where many families picnic, makes it a very unique experience.”
“They used to call it Little Saratoga,” said Bensalem resident John Servis, who trained 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. “That’s what it was called back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
The “character” of Delaware Park, as Sobocinski put it, is a reason the 80-year-old facility should probably be on any horse enthusiast’s must-see list.
For local horse racing fans, the three weeks that Parx Racing is dark to live cards from Aug. 9-Sept. 2, the opportunity to go just a few miles southwest of downtown Wilmington to see live racing might be the perfect time.
“You can expect nine exciting races,” Sobocinski said when asked what people will get on a typical live racing day at Delaware Park. “They’re very competitive and offer a lot of great wagering opportunities. On top of that, you can expect to enjoy a beautiful day when it’s sunny. And if it’s not sunny, I often tell people that a rainy day at Delaware Park is better than a sunny day at almost any place else.”
Delaware Park is a racetrack with the beauty of tracks from days long gone that includes a spacious open-air grandstand which meets up with the modern looks of today.
It also has a huge picnic area that is along the first turn and is a favored destination for families, according to Sobocinski.
Delaware Park also houses a casino and sports book. The inside of the grandstand building has been modernized. The large main floor is filled with tables for bettors and walls full of large video monitors showing races from tracks all over North America for simulcast wagering.
You can get a hot dog for less than two bucks ($1.95), a slice of pizza is just $2 ($2.50 with pepperoni) and a soda for just $1.50.
And for those who frequent Parx, which provides the top racing in this area on a consistent basis, there are certainly some familiar names, probably even more so during the Bensalem track’s renovation break.
Veteran jockey Carol Cedeno has won 30 races this year at Parx and is the leading rider at Delaware Park with 20 wins through July 24.
Parx royalty Servis runs horses at Delaware Park as well.
His 2-year-old filly Maurer Power broke her maiden at Delaware Park on July 15.
Servis said Delaware Park has a number of things that are ideal for trainers to prepare their horses to get to the races, including some of the simpler pleasures.
Like patches of grass in between barns.
“I love the place,” Servis said.
Enjoying our content? Become a Intelligencer subscriber to support stories like these. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 44 cents a day.