Laurel Park could resume racing Saturday

Racing at Laurel Park could resume as early as Saturday, according to the chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission and the president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA).

The decision will be made Thursday, following morning exercise. After five consecutive days in which training has been restricted to jogging and galloping the wrong way at both tracks, Laurel and Pimlico will be open for full training, including breezing. If all goes well, racing may resume Saturday.

“We’re going to open it up to full training tomorrow, where we’re going to be breezing,” MTHA chief Tim Keefe said. “We’re gonna get feedback from the jockeys tomorrow, as well. If everything goes well with training tomorrow, we’re going to be running on Saturday.”

If all goes to plan, the MTHA and Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) will formally request that the state Racing Commission permit them to resume racing. If both are in accord, and if MTHA racetrack consultant John Passero deems the track safe, that permission is expected.

The MJC has already drawn Saturday’s card, which is set to include the five stakes scheduled but not run this past weekend. Entries are typically taken three days in advance, though, so the company’s decision to take entries is the prudent decision if there’s any chance at all of racing Saturday.

Under the terms of a last-minute agreement hammered out by the MTHA and MJC Tuesday morning – literally minutes in advance of an emergency meeting of the Racing Commission – Passero was permitted to enter the grounds, perform the tests and analysis he felt necessary, and recommend a path forward.

Keefe said that Passero reported he would want to make some changes in the way the track is maintained and some additional, relatively small-bore, tweaks to the surface itself. But the nightmare scenario some feared – a track requiring a massive overhaul – does not seem to be at hand.

“He wants to give the cushion more body and make some basic changes in maintenance,” Keefe said. “I mean, it doesn’t appear to be drastic to turn things around.”

One variable is weather. There’s rain in the forecast this weekend for central Maryland, and if it is severe, that could lead Passero and the stakeholders to call an audible.

Laurel lost the final three days of its four-day racing week that ended April 23 because of Commission intervention after recent injuries. The April 27 card was canceled as a boycott by a number of horsemen led to insufficient entries. And the April 28 card was lost as the MJC and MTHA haggled over how to respond to a number of recent equine fatalities and other injuries.

The MTHA had pushed to bring Passero in, claiming that the racing strip itself was to blame for the injury issues. The MJC had denied the track was at fault, instead saying it was imperative that Maryland adopt safety protocols the company had pushed through in California, which it credits for Santa Anita Park’s improved safety record since a disastrous 2019 season there.

The Commission, meanwhile, had said it would not permit racing to resume until it had received an independent assessment the track is safe. Passero’s analysis will provide that assessment.

“We’re monitoring the situation closely,” said Racing Commission chair Michael Algeo. “We’re getting updates, and we’re cautiously optimistic.”