Laurel Park
Racing at Laurel Park without fans. Photo by Allison Janezic.

After a briefer pitstop at Pimlico than ever before, Maryland racing returns Thursday to Laurel Park with an eight-race card and something that hasn’t been seen at a Maryland racetrack in about seven months: fans.

The track will permit up to 250 members of the general public to attend live racing beginning with Thursday’s card. Attendance in the interior simulcast area will be limited to 50 percent of capacity.

Patrons will enter the track through the grandstand entrance, where they will be subject to temperature screening. Food service is slated to be available via the first-floor food court. The clubhouse area will remain closed to the general public because it serves as temporary jockeys’ quarters.

Face masks will be mandatory, and the track will take additional steps to promote social distancing and ensure cleanliness.

The news was first announced on the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association website and was confirmed to The Racing Biz by a Stronach Group spokesman.

In the middle of the six-day Pimlico meeting, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a revised executive order enabling the track to resume permitting fans. The order, issued September 28, amended a September 18 order that had continued the months-long prohibition on spectators at the races that had come into effect during the state’s initial efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in March.

Under the September 28 order, Laurel Park and other racetracks in the state “may open to the general public” but with severe restrictions. They may permit only the lesser of 50% of capacity or 250 people.

Additionally, that permission is further subject to local orders, meaning that the Maryland Jockey Club first needed the permission of Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman before it could reopen in even this restricted manner.

The Governor’s revised order was – quite literally – too little, too late to provide a boost for the Preakness, which took place later that same week, on October 3.

But it does represent at least a small step towards racing normalcy. While owners had been permitted to attend races at Laurel and Pimlico prior to this change, the experience – with the building closed and no betting or food service available – didn’t have much to recommend it.

The eight-race card fans will find when they return to the races October 15 features a maiden special weight event for two-year-old fillies and a first-level allowance for older horses, both on the main track. It also includes a Maryland-bred/Maryland-sired allowance on the turf.