Work underway on Laurel turf course; dirt track freshened

Work began recently on the Laurel Park turf course renovation project and is expected to ramp up as the weather improves.

During a March 15 Zoom meeting with horsemen, jockeys and Maryland Racing Commission representatives, Maryland Jockey Club Track Superintendent Chris Bosley provided an update on the turf course and the dirt track at Laurel. The plan for the turf course was developed earlier this winter by The Stronach Group.

Bosley said the maintenance crew the second week of March began thatching the course and vacuuming off the dead material. Aeration, which he called an “intense process” that involves use of deep tines, began soon after. The goal is to pierce the turf 12 inches below the surface; the tines are currently reaching down 7 1/2 to 10 inches depending on the location on the course.

“They are going down deeper now, which is a good sign,” Bosley said. “We’ll probably have to do it a couple more times. It’s a slow and steady process.”

The MJC earlier said the target date for use of the grass course at Laurel is April 17. Meanwhile, the turf course at Pimlico Race Course, which opens in early May for the Preakness meet, is being thatched.

As for the dirt surface at Laurel, Bosley said it lost some silt and clay as part of the typical winter weather cycle and was freshened a few weeks ago with new material after soil testing was done. “The silt and clay tightens it up and helps the track hold moisture,” he said. “The soil samples tell us what we need to do to keep the surface consistent.”

To protect the turf at Pimlico, the MJC said it has obtained 24 heavy-duty mats, each weighing 1,000 pounds, that can be placed on the course for the vehicle traffic that must access the infield. Bosley said the mats can be picked up and moved every day to avoid damaging the course.

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association had held regular meetings among the track maintenance crew and horsemen before the COVID-19 shutdown and intends again to have them every couple weeks going forward. Trainer Lacey Gaudet, a member of the MTHA Board of Directors, encouraged more participation and feedback from horsemen.

“We have a good track crew that works together very well, and they need backing from more horsemen,” Gaudet said. “They’ll need a little more support from us in order to make (the calls regarding track surfaces). They can make adjustments quickly. The turf is going to be our next biggest issue and it’s really important for us to get it right this year. We need to give (the crew) the timing and backing to get it done.”

Said jockey Victor Carrasco: “We all need to work as a group and give them the support they need. We all need to be on the same page.”

MRC member Konrad Wayson, who has regularly participated in the meetings with the track maintenance crew, said it’s important for all parties to be proactive and communicate.

“If this meeting is just a half-hour, it’s a half-hour well-spent,” Wayson said. “It’s a productive part of the solution.”

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