Laurel Park's new dirt track opened for training Sunday and about 140 horses took the opportunity to test the new surface. Twenty-two official workouts were recorded. At 6 a.m. trainer Lisa Jimenez and her gelding Bring Him Gold were the first to test the track."It is spectacular," said Jimenez. "It looks like Belmont Park, it is so wide. There were so many naysayers but they hung in there and got it done right."The backstretch and racing surfaces at Laurel Park have been closed since mid-June when Magna Entertainment Corp. began the renovation, which included the widening of both racing surfaces. The dirt course has been increased from 75 to 95 feet, while the turf course will be expanded from 75 to 142 feet when it is completed this spring. "It was a very expensive project and at the end of the day it is going to be first-class," said Ferris Allen, who conditions 60 horses. Workers moved 500,000 cubic yards of dirt, trucked in 15,000 tons of limestone, 20,000 tons of topsoil, 25,000 tons of sand and 71,000 tons of stone mixed with crushed stone. They brought in 15,000 linear feet of fiber-optic cable and 15 miles of electrical wiring. Laurel Park track superintendent Glen Kozak said that about 140 horses were on the dirt course this morning with clocker Kevin Geraghty taking 22 official workouts. Hamilton Smith worked eight of the 19 horses he has stabled at Laurel. John Rigattieri worked the first horse he sent to the track."It is beautiful," said Carlos Garcia, who had all 25 of his horses on the new surface this morning. "I just saw a horse work and there was no kick-back. It is a good bouncy track and it is wet this morning. Previously it wouldn't have been this good. My horses were eager to go and my exercise riders said the horses liked it."
"All of us at Magna Entertainment and the Maryland Jockey Club would like to thank the Maryland racing community for their patience,"said Jim Gagliano, executive vice president of Maryland Racing Operations. Laurel Park is scheduled to open again Jan. 22.