Delaware Press Junket, 1969

  Jack Zaraya, retired as the Senior Ceremonial Resolution Writer for the New Jersey Legislature, lives in Freehold, NJ.
 
  With a big Memorial Day weekend of racing on tap, I am reminded of a bygone era when both media and horses were treated differently. One of the perks in working for The Morning Telegraph back in the late ’60s was an invitation to the annual press junket to bucolic Delaware Park. This event took place on a Sunday prior to the start of the Delaware race meeting that opened on Memorial Day. Racing journalists from the region were given a complimentary train ride to Wilmington, where they were picked up by Delaware Park publicity staff and transported to the Stanton track.
 
  Upon arrival, they were led to an area where tents and canopies along with picnic tables were situated. After exchanging pleasantries with new and familiar colleagues, they lined up for a mouth-watering buffet: filet mignon, steamed lobster and lobster tails, and an assortment of verdant salads.
 
  After lunch, trainer Buddy Raines, a Delaware Park fixture and conditioner for Brandywine Stable, would unveil a few of his promising 2-year-olds that were brought in from his nearby barn. If you loved racing, it was hard not to have a good time.

  For me, one of the best times was my first invite, in May 1969. On this occasion I was introduced to my paper’s Delaware correspondent, Teddy Cox, whose copy I had been editing for the previous year since I began working for the Telegraph. Cox filed stories from such diverse locales as the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Hawthorne Race Course outside of Chicago, and Pimlico in Baltimore, to name a few.
 
  Teddy was yet another of the Runyonesque characters I had recently gotten to know in New York, albeit this one with a Maryland drawl.
 
  We talked racing, and I lauded Damascus, who had been retired the year before. My first and foremost equine hero, Damascus was the focus of my only prior visit to Delaware Park, which took place July 8, 1967, when I was still a student and working nights in the sports department at the Associated Press in Manhattan. On that date, a buddy and I drove the length of the New Jersey Turnpike to see Damascus run in the William DuPont Jr. Handicap, his first race against older horses just one month after winning the Belmont Stakes. He was beaten a nose at 1-5.
 
  A far cry from today’s conservative racing regimen, Damascus was not babied: Two weeks after the Belmont he ran in and won the Leonard Richards at Delaware and came back a week following the DuPont to win the Dwyer Handicap at Aqueduct under 128 pounds. The Dwyer was his 10th race in 18 weeks.
 
  The loss in the DuPont was devastating to a young racing fan, and from the lower grandstand I watched as trainer Frank Whiteley unsaddled Damascus, said a few words to jockey Bill Shoemaker, and briskly followed his horse up the homestretch to the stable area.
 
  Back at the Delaware party, Teddy Cox mentioned that Whiteley was, in fact, stabled right here at Delaware Park.
  “Do ya wanna meet ’im?” he asked.
 
  Did I!
 
  So, after lunch, the Telegraph group climbed into Teddy’s Cadillac and drove through the collection of stables until we reached the designated one.
 
  I caught sight of the lanky, graying trainer, a native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland who was enigmatically known as the “Fox of Laurel.” He was leaning back on a chair against the barn while hosing down the legs of a delighted Thoroughbred.
 
  Whiteley watched suspiciously as we emptied out of the car, until he spotted Cox.
 
  “Hey, pardner!”
 
  Clearly, they were friends.
 
  Teddy introduced us as editors from The Morning Telegraph, and the first thing Whiteley asked was, “Is Charlie Hatton your boss?” referring to the brilliant columnist.
 
  Decidedly, those two were not friends.
 
  “No,” I answered.
 
  Despite his reputation for being less than candid with the press, Whiteley soon was talking in great detail about the horses in his stable to perfect strangers and even allowed us to take his picture. Then I ventured to bring up Damascus, whose superb career came to a sad close when he bowed a tendon in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. As I gushed about his performances, Whiteley, proud as a father, listened patiently to a history he had helped create.
 
When it was time to leave, we thanked Whiteley, who picked up the hose and resumed his chores on a late Sunday afternoon.

5 Comments

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ellpol

This blog brings me back to my wide eyed youth and the days when the horse racing game was great.  Reading it gave me goosebumps.

Thanks

24 May 2011 12:43 PM
backside sweetie

Thanks Jack,for a great blog.I grew up,near Delaware Park and visited there often with my Dad.We went backside and watched the horses train in the early morning,then go back later to watch the races.Del.Pk is still very beautiful,but those were the glory days,when the stands were filled to capacity and as a native of that area everyone knew to avoid it  during race times as there were always traffic jams and if you were attending the races,you knew to get there early.Those were the days and thanks again for bringing back the memories of a bygone time!

24 May 2011 7:50 PM
an ole railbird

those were the times. those were the times,when they raced race horses. those were the times when, trainers with good horses, would seek out other good horses& enter the races where they knew it would be competitive. trainers entered their horses,in order to build purses.alais. now we play dodge em. &use the press for hipe & fan fare. how long has it been since i heard of a horse being "open the the world"? it was a lot better in the days ,when we entered them, bet our hard earned money, & LET THEM BOUNCE!!!!

25 May 2011 11:54 AM
steve from st louis

Jack, I'm sure you have a bunch of Sol Rosen stories as well from your Telegraph days. Enjoyed your Teddy Cox story--I KNEW Whiteley had to be friends with someone, I just never knew who.

25 May 2011 1:40 PM
Fran Loszynski

Thank you for the wonderful memory of summer of '69'. I couldn't enjoy racing fully that summer after losing my mother who adored horseracing. She died on Derby Day and to this day I have a hard time remembering who won that day. Your story helped me to remember the greats Willie Shoe and the horses that were present that year. You made me remember it was a wonderful time for horseracing. It will always be ironic for me that she died on May 4th and didn't see the winner.....Wonderful story, thank you.

26 May 2011 10:04 AM

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