The following is a letter from Logan Freeman, the Maryland Jockey Club turf consultant, on the decision to halt grass racing at Laurel Park after the Sunday, Nov. 20, racing program. It also discusses the condition of the turf course and ongoing improvements and projects.
The turf racing season will come to an end following the race day on Sunday, Nov. 20. This will end what has been a successful 2022 racing season on the turf courses at both Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. Conditions and management of the turf course went very well this year, and congratulations must be given to Turf Superintendent Tony Gatto, his assistant Eduardo Garcia-Martinez, and the entire turf staff for the high-quality turf conditions provided.
This decision to end the season was not taken lightly, but the time had come to make that decision. This decision to end for the year involved several members of the MJC, myself, and the turf team. We looked at weather, what we are seeing firsthand with current turf conditions, and projects needing to be completed before the ground freezes in making the decision.
The turf course is still in good shape, but recovery of the turf course at Laurel Park has slowed substantially. Seed is no longer germinating in repaired divots, and top growth of the leaf blades has also slowed extensively. The soil profile is cooling each night with overnight temperatures possibly dipping down into the 20s, or low 20s to high teens, early Monday morning.
These low temperatures not only affect the turf itself, but they also affect the time frame in which work can be performed on the turf, in combination with reduced daylight hours. Divot repair, rail movement, and other maintenance practices must be held off until all the frost has left the turf. Walking or driving on frosted turf will result in injury to the (grass) and will delay recovery and conditioning and overall turf quality, not only now but into the spring.
Following the completion of the racing season we will begin a much-anticipated Capex project. Removal of the old irrigation pump station control system and pumps will occur. A new state-of-the-art irrigation pump house control system and pumps will be put in their place. This project will provide us with updated control over the irrigation system from the pump house, which is the heart of the system, and from there we can continue with other improvements in the field.
Winterization of the irrigation system as a whole and large-scale cultural practices on the turf like aerification, compaction-relief techniques, and divot filling will begin as well. All these practices will make us better going forward.
I thank you for your understanding as it has been a great 2022 on the turf and we look to build on this for 2023. We all hate to see turf racing come to an end, but weather and conditions have told us that the time has come to end the season and to quickly complete the work that will benefit us next year before it is simply too cold to do so. We are all excited for a strong 2023.
I hope everyone has a great winter, and we can't wait to see horses running on the turf again in the spring.