Officials of the Maryland Jockey Club hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday to celebrate the opening of its new turf course at Laurel Park. Twenty-one horses galloped and worked over the lush greenery for the first time this morning. Both riders and horsemen were quick to lavish praise on the new surface.Turf course superintendent Robbie Mitten was given the honor of cutting a yellow ribbon which was draped across the entrance to the turf course, officially opening the new surface to awaiting exercise riders and horses at 9:05 a.m.Jockey Steve Hamilton was aboard Lukipela, the first horse to work out over the track. Hamilton finished the work, jogged his horse to the gap and announced, "It's got some cushion. It's got some bounce. Overall it's very even and in great shape."Jockey Horacio Karamanos worked several horses for trainers Ann Merryman and Carlos Garcia and said, "It's perfect. Excellent. I like it." He looked at track supervisor Mitten and joked, "You made this turf course for me!"Lou Raffetto, MJC's chief operating officer offered, "Obviously I'm ecstatic with the way the course seems to be and the riders' reactions to it. They know better than we do. We had over 20 horses working and it looked great. When guys like Karamanos and Hamilton come back and say the course is great, we're happy with that. We couldn't be happier right now."The completion of the turf course was the second leg of a multi-million dollar project to completely replace both the main track and turf course at Laurel Park. Work commenced in June 2004. Both courses were bulldozed and the drainage systems, bases and surfaces were rebuilt. The main track was widened from 75 feet to 95 feet. A new apron, winners' circle and fencing were constructed along the home stretch.Weather delays led to a halt in the construction of the turf course last fall. Construction resumed this past spring. The new, sweeping turf course has been widened from 75 feet to 142 feet. It will accommodate six track configurations.
Raffetto expects to card four turf races a day through November. The Laurel Park fall meeting will open 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. Racing secretary Georganne Hale said, "I think it's beautiful. You know I'm going to like it. It makes my life easier."