More details announced on Laurel surface project, training

The Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association are working on a plan to relocate horses stabled at Laurel Park to Pimlico Race Course and the Maryland State Fair at Timonium in order to expedite and properly complete the rebuilding of the Laurel dirt surface.

The relocation plan was part of an update on the Laurel project during an April 30 Zoom meeting hosted by the MTHA. The project entails examination of the substructure and necessary repairs, replacement of the limestone base, and the addition of new cushion material.

“Unfortunate as it is, the best way to proceed is to move the horse population after the Preakness out of Laurel,” said Aidan Butler, Chief Operating Officer for The Stronach Group (1/ST RACING). “The main benefit is the track crew will not be limited. The optimum would be working from dawn to dusk every day.”

Other important benefits, Butler said, are the safety aspect—horses are currently permitted to gallop or jog on the outer half of the dirt track, but that could be problematic as more intense work begins—and facilitating a rodent eradication project by emptying out all the barns. He also other work can be done to improve the stable area while the horses and most vehicles are gone.

“We can go full-court press to clean up the backside,” he said.

Butler said a French drainage system would be installed because an underground stream in the substructure near the five-eighths pole has been identified as a problem. Bore samples have been taken to ensure “consistency and stability” is there, and any trouble spots have been identified.

“Our hope was to keep the modified training schedule (at Laurel), but Aidan is dead-set on doing it the right way and not cutting corners,” MTHA President Tim Keefe said. “Our hope is the track is not only safer but the project can be done in a more expedited fashion. Hopefully by July 1 we’ll be back at Laurel. I’m not advertising it but that’s our hope.

“I’m confident this isn’t lip service. It will be little painful the next two months but I’m confident we’ll get things done the right way.”

Under the relocation plan, about 140 tented temporary stalls would be placed at Pimlico shortly after the May 15 Preakness Stakes. In addition, regular stalls in barns on the grandstand side will be available soon after the big racing weekend.

As for Timonium, which could have up to 600 stalls—about 530 plus 60 temporary stalls if needed—available when horses leave the grounds several days after the May 17-18 Fasig-Tipton sale, the MJC and MTHA discussed the options with State Fair officials later on April 30. Regular track maintenance, staffing, and the the financial terms for what amounts to renting Timonium for a period of time are part of the discussions, as is developing a plan for the housing and transportation of backstretch workers normally based at Laurel.

The State Fair, MJC and MTHA said they are committed to reaching to an agreement. Keefe said the MJC and MTHA would attempt to accommodate horsemen’s preferences should they relocate to either Timonium or Pimlico.

Some horsemen have been able to get stalls at other tracks such as Delaware Park, which doesn’t begin its live race meet until May 26. In response to a question whether horsemen who have an opportunity to move temporarily to another track would be penalized, Butler said: “Absolutely, categorically, no. There will be no stall changes or penalization.”

Officials said racing will continue at Pimlico, where the meet is scheduled to end May 31, until racing can return to Laurel. Because of the longer meet, the turf course will be closely monitored and used accordingly, Butler said.

Regarding the master plan for Laurel and Pimlico under the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, Butler said the major reconstruction of the Laurel dirt surface must be done now, and if the sub-base is in good order, it shouldn’t be affected even the dirt track is “truncated” to accommodate a synthetic Tapeta surface that is part of the original redevelopment plan announced in 2018. The Laurel stable area would also be completely rebuilt under the master plan.

“The track needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed now,” Butler said. “We are hopeful that with the master plan we will be able to reuse this. I think it will stand the test of time if we do need to truncate it.”

Details of the master plan are in the process of being finalized. The Maryland Stadium Authority is leading the redevelopment of Laurel and Pimlico.

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