Laurel Park to race Mondays in the fall
by Frank Vespe
Laurel Park will switch to a four-day racing week, beginning with the second weekend in October — with a twist.
Though the track had originally planed to race on a Thursday through Sunday schedule, it will instead race Friday through Monday. That, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra said in an interview, will allow Laurel to be the number one track on TVG on Mondays.
“Obviously, there’s not a whole lot of product out there on Mondays,” Sinatra said. “If we would go to Mondays, TVG said they would go the extra mile and make us ‘own’ Mondays. And it will take us off of a crowded Thursday.”
Sinatra said that, as a result, every Laurel Park race will be shown live on TVG on Mondays. Only about 10 tracks present live racing on Mondays, with nearly twice as many racing on Thursday.
The track’s four-day weekly schedule was originally slated to take place during October and November only. But with the switch to Mondays, horsemen balked at having to race October 2, which is also the first day of the two-day Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Fall Yearling Sale. Instead, Laurel will commence racing Mondays October 9 and continue through year’s end, with the final racing Monday being December 18. That will add two days to Laurel’s live racing calendar through year-end.
In addition to the immediate benefit of getting off a more crowded day in the national betting landscape, the shift to Mondays has the potential to have longer term benefits for the Maryland Jockey Club, Sinatra said.
“The question I had was, the pie is smaller on Monday than on Thursday with handle nationally,” he explained. “But a lot of us sit looking and saying, ‘The Maryland product’s pretty good, and people don’t really know it.’ The thought is that the hard core guys go out on Mondays. If you could show them how good your product is on Mondays, maybe they’ll follow you on Fridays and Saturdays.”
One obvious concern is that while the four-day week may work during turf season, filling races will be tougher come December. Sinatra readily admits that but said he hopes for the best.
“I told the horsemen, ‘I’m going to rely on you for horseflesh,'” he said. “We’re bringing some new outfits in. We’re going to fill Pimlico up, I think, this winter.”
And he points to the track’s frequent recent 11- and 12-race cards, saying they have been an experiment “to see what’s out there” in terms of horse population.
“In August we ran 18 more races than last year,” he pointed out. “To me that’s two race days.”