Racing returns to Laurel Park March 11 after a more than three-week break as part of a new schedule that will allow the facility to capitalize on its expansive turf course.
Laurel will race Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays each week through May 8. The condition book lists the first grass races of the meet for April 1, but Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra said turf racing could begin earlier.
"We're fertilizing the course today," Sinatra said March 10. "It's almost ready to go, and if the weather holds, we could be writing some extra (races for turf) before the end of this month."
Plans call for four to six grass races per day when they fill; that hasn't been a problem at Laurel.
"We actually have two (grass) courses, and we could run a maximum of three on each (on one day)," Sinatra said, noting management tries to strike a balance so horsemen have a sufficient number of dirt races as well.
Pimlico Race Course in recent years has opened in early April. The extended winter/spring season at Laurel will help protect the Pimlico turf course for another month in advance of Preakness Stakes (gr. I) week in May.
"Part of the reason we're running through (early May) at Laurel is to get the turf course at Pimlico pristine by Preakness week," Sinatra said.
Stakes action at Laurel will resume March 11 with two $75,000 events: the 1 1/16-mile Private Terms Stakes for 3-year-olds and the one-mile Caesar's Wish Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Most Saturdays through the end of April will feature at least one stakes.
In another development, Sinatra on March 10 was in Virginia to assist the horsemen's group in developing off-track betting facilities. The OTB network in Virginia folded as part of a dispute that led to the closure of Colonial Downs near Richmond.
Sinatra indicated the MJC could end up partnering with horsemen—they are now part of the Virginia Equine Alliance—in operating new OTB facilities in Virginia. The MJC has been assisting Virginia horsemen and breeders by providing a home for state-bred stakes since the closure of Colonial Downs.