Thirty-nine stakes races, with purses totaling almost $3.8 million, highlight the opening of the fall meet at Laurel Park. The meet kicks off Sept. 7 with live racing on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the month. Sunday racing will be added beginning the first week of October.
This summer, the Maryland Jockey Club completed the installation of sod to the Laurel Park turf course that has been expanded from 75-to-142 feet, allowing for six different courses to race on. Maryland Jockey Club Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto expects to card four turf races a day through November.
"We are trying to get people to focus on Maryland racing. To showcase our new grass surface, we will institute an all turf Pick 3 during the first four weeks of the meet," said Raffetto. "We will offer it on races six, seven, and eight and reduce the takeout to 14%, the same as the Pick 4. The four-day week in concert with turf racing will allow us to have very large fields and competitive racing during September and beyond."
Highlighting the 78-day stand will be the 20th running of the Maryland Million (Oct. 8) and the Fall Festival Of Racing (Nov.19), headlined by the grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.
Purses for Maryland's Day At The Races have been increased from $1,125,000 to $1,430,000 with more than half of the 12 races getting increases, including the Classic, which has been upped from $200,000 to $250,000. The Oaks, Ladies, Distaff, Turf and Sprint were also given $50,000 boosts.
Introduced in 1986, the Maryland Million is a program restricted to the offspring of Maryland-based stallions. It has been duplicated by 19 other Thoroughbred states.
The Fall Festival of Racing is the fourth biggest day on the Maryland racing calendar with total purses approaching $1 million, trailing only Preakness, Pimlico Special-Black-Eyed Susan and Maryland Million days. The eight stakes spectacular will include the De Francis Dash and four added money races on the grass.
"We are bringing back the Laurel Turf Cup for older horses and have added a filly and mare race at a 1 1/8 miles," added Raffetto. "Instead of trying to bat heads with New York and the Breeders' Cup, racing secretary Georganne Hale and I thought it would help our program if we returned the Selima and Laurel Futurity to the grass. We know we'll lose the grading on the Futurity, but instead of struggling to get a six or seven horse field, we should be looking at 10, 12, 14 horse fields in all of these races."
After an eight-week break, live racing returns to Maryland Aug. 12 for the nine-day Pimlico summer meeting. Racing then shifts to Timonium for the eight-day state fair stand Aug. 27 before settling at Laurel Park for the remainder of the year and first three and a half months of 2006.