Update provided on Laurel dirt course project

The results of an examination of the substructure under the base of the Laurel Park dirt course will play a role in the timeline for completion of the rebuild of the surface, officials said April 23 during a Zoom meeting organized by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The Maryland Jockey Club received emergency approval to move the remaining two weeks of the Laurel spring meet to Pimlico Race Course, which was scheduled to open May 6. Three racing days at Laurel was lost before Pimlico opened April 22. The meet concludes May 31.

Though Laurel-based horses must ship to Pimlico for workouts, they can gallop and jog at Laurel. The surface reconstruction project was designed to avoid closure of the track as much as possible; horses currently have access to the outer half of the 1 1/8-mile surface while the inside half is scraped to the base and examined. When work on the inside is completed, the outer half will be stripped of material and the base examined.

Over the years, sections of the base have been patched, one as recently as earlier this year. Aidan Butler, Chief Operating Officer for The Stronach Group (1/ST RACING), said project team has been checking the base for flaws, and “it’s fairly apparent some of the patch work was not optimum.” Two inches of the base had been removed but Butler said the team decided the smarter approach was take off more material and put in a new base.

The one-mile chute is being used as a testing site to determine the best materials for the safest and most consistent surface. The MJC is close to selecting the company that will provide the limestone for the base.

As for the cushion material, which also will be replaced, Butler said: “We’re confident we will get (material) that will work and the composition will be as good as can be. We’re in pretty shape. We’re going to do it once and do it properly.”

The project team will also reshoot the grades to ensure the surface is correctly banked to allow for adequate drainage and consistency.

Dr. Mick Peterson of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory noted that not only is using the proper material important, but it’s critical the same material is available on an ongoing basis. “The big challenge is not only finding material but (from a source) you can go back to over time.”

The goal is for the Laurel project to be completed by then end of the Pimlico meet. The Laurel summer meet is scheduled to begin June 3.

“We’re moving as quickly as physically possible,” Butler said. “We’re looking at the end of the Pimlico meet if nothing is found in the substructure.”

The MJC also reminded horsemen that the Laurel turf course will be available for works on two Sundays—May 2 and May 9—for horses prepping for Preakness weekend stakes. The hours for workouts will be provided soon.

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