Maryland Jockey Club officials were thinking green Friday when the Laurel Park racing office took entries for next Wednesday's card that included the first turf race of the year. Twenty older horses have entered for an allowance test at one mile. Fourteen will be eligible to run. "This is the first time we have ever run on the turf during this winter meet, so I am ecstatic," said Georganne Hale, Maryland Jockey Club director of racing. "Normally, we wait until we return to Pimlico for the spring. Robbie Mitten (turf superintendent) told me he is ready to roll. This will definitely give us a break in having to hustle entries. Everybody loves the turf."
Last fall the new, sweeping turf course - which was widened from 75 feet to 142 feet last summer - helped make the track a top simulcast signal with an average of 11.2 starters per grass race. The statistics were impressive: 105 of 134 races featured double digit fields, a 78% rate. Laurel Park's new turf course saw 29 full fields of 14 facing the starter. Only 11 races featured fewer than eight starters, and nine of those were seven horse fields. The average win payoff was $14.45. Track records were set by the likes of Barbaro (1 1/16 mile in 1:40.17) and Battle Chant (1 1/8 mile in 1:46.00).
The turf accommodates six track configurations. Over the final four weeks of the current meeting, Laurel will use the two inside courses. The final condition book calls for at least one turf test each day during the final 19 days of the stand. The last stakes race of the winter meet is scheduled for the grass on April 15, with fillies and mares going one mile in the Dahlia Stakes.