- Maryland thoroughbred racing will remain at Pimlico until late August.
- A brief meet at the State Fair in Timonium will run from August 27 through Labor Day, September 6.
- The hope is that racing can begin at Laurel Park by mid-September.
Maryland horsemen will have a couple more months of racing at Pimlico. That’s because of the ongoing problems with the track renovation at Laurel Park. Right now the ‘best case scenario’ is for a return to Laurel Park in August but the more realistic scenario would have racing at Maryland’s other major track begin in early to mid September.
The entire fiasco began in early April when problems with the Laurel Park dirt track surface first came to light. There had been issues before but when two horses broke down in one morning–and a third fatally injured soon thereafter–Maryland’s Jockey Club (MJC) and parent company 1/ST Racing (aka the Stronach Group) were forced to act. Sources indicate that the two horses broke down near the sixteenth pole both suffering what were described as ‘unusual hind leg fractures’.
On April 15th, 1/ST Racing and the MJC announced that live racing would be cancelled from Saturday April 17 to Monday April 19 due to contuining problems with the main track surface. At that point, the MJC indicated that the main track ‘had not responded sufficently to wintertime cushion repairs‘. Simultaneous to this announcement, the MJC announced that live racing would move to Pimlico Race Course on an emergency basis until further notice. At the time, Aidan Butler, Chief Operating Officer, 1/ST RACING, expressed confidence that the situation would be resolved quickly:
“We understand that the timing of this Laurel Park main track maintenance is not ideal for our horsemen, but the safety of the horses and our riders must be our top priority. We have full confidence that Dr. Mick Peterson, Dennis Moore and Chris Bosley will manage this project quickly and will deliver a rehabilitated main track surface cushion that will offer superior training and racing to the benefit of Maryland horsemen for years to come.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. In late April, the Maryland Racing Commission heard an update on the Laurel Park rennovations and they weren’t happy. Commissioner Konrad Wayson–who also owns and runs horses–has made an issue of the track conditions for several years. He wasn’t buying what Stronach/1/ST Racing was selling:
“How do we go from nothing to shutting the whole thing down? The Stronach Group, I don’t think, is forthcoming with information about what’s going on out here.”
Commissioner Michael Algeo, a former chairman of the Commission, was slightly more diplomatic:
“We have spent years on the Safety Committee trying to get information on the safety of the track… There’s a level of frustration.”
Steve Koch, the Stronach Group’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations emphasized that his company was sparing no expense to get the track into tip top shape. Koch suggested that the delays were due to an unusually wet winter as well as the track cushion being in substandard condition.
Other trainers said that the track problems had been going on for some time with no resolution. Jerry Robb is a longtime Maryland trainer:
“They’ve been complaining about horses stumbling past the wire for months. It’s very frustrating to be a trainer right now.”
Robb suggested that the wrong base material was used when the track was redone in 2005 and that ‘everything down there is wrong’.
The revised date for completion of the Laurel Park project was May 31–the original scheduled end date of the Pimlico Preakness meet. The new plan is to stay at Pimlico on a three day per week basis until the brief State Fair meet at Timonium begins on August 27. That meet concludes on Labor Day and the working plan is that racing will shift to Laurel Park sometime after that. Since the latest word from 1/ST is that ‘it’s a mammoth job–way bigger than we originally anticipated’–it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the project to be further delayed and racing forced back to Pimlico in September.