Laurel dirt surface to be stripped, base examine

The entire Laurel Park dirt surface will be stripped of all material and the base inspected during a project that began April 16 and could take two to three weeks to complete, officials said during a racing community Zoom meeting hosted by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, The Stronach Group (1/ST RACING), on April 15 announced that racing at Laurel would be suspended and the spring meet would move to Pimlico Race Course beginning Thursday, April 22. The MJC said the Laurel dirt track had not responded sufficiently to cushion repairs made during the winter meet.

The surface will be stripped from the rail out and horses will be permitted to gallop or jog on the outside of the track. Cones will be in place to separate the maintenance work area from the rest of the surface. On Saturday, April 17, training hours will be 5-8:30 a.m. with no break.

MTHA President Tim Keefe noted that training hours could change and there could be days when horses are not permitted on the track during the project. He recommended all horsemen follow the regular text messages sent by the MTHA and MJC on a daily basis.

“We need to focus on getting a safe racing surface at Laurel Park,” Keefe said. “I know how this situation has affected us, and we will have to figure out how we got to this point. But we feel confident that no expense will be spared.”

TSG Chief Operating Officer Aidan Butler said the goal is to ensure the racing surface is “the best at all times. We want it not only good but really, really want it to be the best. We’re being creative in keeping horses in some form of training. As long as we can do things safely, this too shall pass very quickly.”

Steve Koch, TSG Senior Vice President of Racing, discussed the timeline for the work at Laurel: “It will probably take a couple of weeks, but variables could add time. I’m confident to say more than two weeks, and hopefully less than three weeks.”

Dennis Moore, Senior Track Superintendent for TSG, is working with MJC Track Superintendent Chris Bosley and Dr. Mick Peterson, Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, on the Laurel project. Bosley said the project offers an opportunity.

“As we remove the material we need to take a hard look at the base,” Bosley said. “This is our time to do it right, so we should do it right.”

In related matters, officials said a second training break will be added at Pimlico to accommodate Laurel horses shipping in for workouts and to protect the surface, and horses pointing to Preakness weekend stakes May 14-15 will be permitted to work on the Laurel turf course May 2 and May 9. The shuttle hours for horses shipping from Laurel to Pimlico for workouts may change, but the works will be scheduled for dark days at Pimlico.

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