Live racing shifts to Laurel Park Wednesday for a 78-day fall meeting that is highlighted by the Maryland Million (Oct. 8) and the Fall Festival Of Racing (November 19), headlined by the grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. The meet will feature 39 stakes races with purses exceeding $4 million. Opening day attractions include free admission, a complimentary live racing program and half-priced hot dogs, popcorn, Pepsi products and coffee. First post is 1:10 p.m. with the $75,000 Twixt Stakes topping the program. The new, sweeping turf course, which has been widened from 75 feet to 142 feet, was completed this summer and opened to rave reviews on Aug. 24. It will accommodate six track configurations which have been named All Along, Bowl Game, Kelso, Dahlia, Exceller and Ft. Marcy, in honor of some of the great horses which have competed on the grass at Laurel Park. Maryland Jockey Club Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto expects to card four turf races a day through November. In September live racing will be conducted on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the month. Sunday racing will be added beginning the first week of October. To showcase the new grass surface, Laurel will institute an all turf Pick 3 during the first four weeks of the meet, offering the wager on races six, seven and eight with a reduced takeout of 14%, the same as the Pick 4. "I think it is going to generate some excitement," said Raffetto. "Racing on the grass is more competitive and the fields are certainly fuller so that wager is going to be very popular for fans around the country. We are going to have some strong turf racing at Laurel this fall." The meet will also feature the return of Ryan Fogelsonger, who has been out since late July with an injured back. The 2002 Eclipse Award winner for outstanding apprentice suffered two serious spills this year, including one where he spent an afternoon at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit. Because of the injuries, he missed 40 of the first 118 days of racing in Maryland this year and half of the Colonial Downs summer stand. "I couldn't be happier," said Fogelsonger, who has 101 victories from 513 mounts this year. "This is the first year where I have had deal with injuries. I had to wait until my body healed properly. I can't wait until next week."
Since the fall schedule was approved by the Maryland Racing Commission in mid-June, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association has approved the purse increase on 10 added money races, including two on Maryland Million Day. Purses for Maryland's Day At The Races have been increased from $1,125,000 to $1,480,000, making it the richest sire-stakes program in the country. Nine of the 12 races received increases, including the Classic, which has been upped from $200,000 to $250,000. Introduced in 1986, the Maryland Million is a program restricted to the offspring of Maryland-based stallions. It has been duplicated by 20 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.