A new book by a Sussex County author details the last century of horse racing in Delaware through hundreds of photographs and numerous essays.
“Delaware Horse Racing” by Lacey Lafferty, a Laurel resident and Cape Henolpen High School graduate, was released last month by Arcadia Publishing as a part of its Images of America series.
“I fell in love with horses while growing up in Lewes when my parents purchased a retired Standardbred racehorse named Misty and I got into horseracing myself about 12 years ago,” Laffery, a retired Delaware State Trooper, said of her inspiration for the book. “I kept hearing these stories from people about the old race tracks and decided to put my investigative skills to use by interviewing people familiar with the industry.”
Five of the 127-page paperback’s seven chapters focus on individual race tracks in Delaware, including the Harrington and Georgetown raceways – the oldest tracks in the First State.
“Organized horse racing got its start here with farmers digging up tracks around their crops, and then on the weekends racing the horses that they used on their farms during the week,” Lafferty said. “That began to change after 1919 when a small group purchased 30 acres in Harrington and started building the Kent and Sussex Raceway.”
That raceway gave birth to both the first major horse-racing track in Delaware, as well as the State Fair. In 1946, it also hosted the first pari-mutuel harness racing meet in the state.
“What’s really great about the Harrington Raceway and Casino is that the grandstand of yesteryear is still there,” Lafferty said. “There aren’t a lot of those historic grandstands left in the country these days and, eventually, that will likely end up being torn down as well.”
The former Delmarva Raceway, east of Georgetown, is just as historic, having been one of the first raceways in the country to host nighttime races when it opened in the 1930s.
After original owner Charles W. Wilkins sold the raceway to area businessman and horseman Nutter Marvel, the raceway in Georgetown also held some of the state’s first horse races officially sanctioned by the United States Trotting Association, starting in 1952.
“There was a time before television and the Internet when thousands of people would attend the horse races at these venues wearing their best suits and dresses,” Lafferty said. “The industry went into decline by the late 1970s and had a resurgence in the 1990s after the state approved casinos, but with the economy taking a downturn, it seems to be on the decline again. Plus, these days you don’t actually have to go to the racetracks to watch the races because of simulacasting.”
Page 2 of 2 - Horse lovers and race fans can still revisit those glory days through the dozens of black-and-white photos that fill the pages of Lafferty’s book.
Sales of the book also will help support retired racehorses in the state, she said.
“I plan to contribute a portion of the proceeds toward agencies that help people adopt former racehorses in an effort to keep them out of auctions where they often are sold to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico,” she said.
“Delaware Horse Racing” is Lafferty’s second book. Her more personal work, “Messages From A Mother,” includes advice and inspirations Lafferty wrote to her then 3-year-old daughter while suffering through a life-threatening illness.
Published this year by Authorhouse, “Messages From A Mother” is available through Authorhouse.com.
“Delaware Horse Racing” is available at Walgreens, Book’s A Million, and www.arcadiaPublishing.com.
Both books also can be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Lafferty’s own website, www.laceylafferty.com.