Racing fans may have noticed that racetracks across North America have named turf courses for notable figures. Saratoga’s outer turf course is named for longtime owner/breeder Paul Mellon. Del Mar’s turf pays tribute to actor and singer Jimmy Durante, a frequent patron of the California track in its heyday.   Louisiana Downs’ sod is called the Franks Turf, after John Franks, the leading owner at the track for 18 consecutive years and a major figure in Louisiana racing history.

Delaware Park joined those ranks last October, by dedicating its turf course to John E. Mooney, who retired after nearly 40 years in Mid-Atlantic racing, 25 at Delaware.

When Delaware began its 86th live season May 24, racing fans were reminded of Mooney’s impact every time they saw a grass race.  Mooney, born in Toronto in 1948 as the oldest of seven children, grew up around the sport. His grandfather, J.D.Mooney, won the 1924 Kentucky Derby aboard Black Gold and is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame. His father, John J. Mooney, was a member of the team which oversaw the creation of Canada’s Woodbine Racetrack, which opened in 1956. He was named general manager of the Ontario Jockey Club in 1957 and president from 1971-75. Later, he opened and operated Nashville Stud near Kleinberg, Ontario, and served as president of Laurel Racecourse and Arlington Park. In 1989, the elder Mooney was inducted into the Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. Mike, one of John E. Mooney’s brothers, wrote for various newspapers in Canada and served as publicity director at Hollywood Park from 1993 to 2010.

Another brother, Danny, owns and operates Huntington Stud Farm in Kleinberg, Ontario.  “When I was in high school and early college, I’d work in the summertime in the racetracks in Ontario,” said Mooney. “At the time, the racing in Canada was being condensed from a number of smaller tracks. You had Woodbine, you had the old Woodbine, which became Greenwood, and you had Fort Erie.” Mooney’s first full-time job in racing was as an entry clerk at Woodbine and Greenwood in the late 1960s, and he soon moved on to serve as an official at tracks across Canada. He worked at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg and the nowdefunct Blue Bonnets in Montreal. “The work was seasonal back then,” said Mooney, “so I worked as an official whenever there were meetings I could work at.  ”After working part-time in the United States, as a spotter at the Fasig-Tipton sales and as an assistant at the Harrisburg Standardbred sale among other roles, Mooney came to the United States full-time. He started at Latonia, now Turfway Park, in Kentucky as the assistant to the general manager and the director of operations. He moved to the now-defunct Miles Park in Louisville, and found himself involved in new business opportunities. “Around 1974, I had an opportunity to buy into a new company providing services for racing called Eye in the Sky, which was a photo-finish company specializing in providing photo-finish services at Thoroughbred tracks.” said Mooney. “I was later brought into a company called Photo Trackmaster, specializing in film patrol, photo finish, and timing. That was prior to everything going to video, and once video came around, we jumped right into that.  ”The company went on to purchase Jones Precision Photo and eventually became the biggest supplier of video services to tracks.  Mooney found it a great learning experience.  “I got to do systems throughout the United States, Canada, and Central America. It was an opportunity to meet many people and get involved in different facets of the industry.  We provided services to Thoroughbred tracks, Standardbred tracks, sales companies. We also got involved in doing television coverage from jai alai frontons and Greyhound tracks. I got a lot of contacts and dealt with several different operators, and got fairly well-known within the industry because we did a lot of work with racing commissions.  “The biggest change for me was when we went to video. At the time, television didn’t have the same video quality as film.

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