John Passero Joins Team To Help Improve Laurel Park Surface

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

After days of negotiations, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association reached an agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club on hiring consultant John Passero to examine the Laurel Park dirt surface and make recommendations for its improvement in the wake of a string of equine injuries during training and racing.

The Maryland Racing Commission accepted the agreement about 30 minutes before its special meeting at Laurel April 25. The MRC called the meeting to address the surface issues and, if necessary, identify a third-party consultant to handle the examination at the expense of the MJC, which it is authorized to do by statute. Under the agreement, the MTHA will pay Passero, who has visited Laurel in recent years at the request of horsemen after issues with the surface were discovered.

Passero, the longtime MJC Track Superintendent when the De Francis family owned the racetracks, was at Laurel April 24 and returned early April 26. In less than 24 hours he had prepared a report for the MRC, which had the final say on when live racing could resume at Laurel. Racing was canceled April 21-23, and again April 27-28. The MRC signed off for Laurel Park to race April 29 after accepting Passero’s report April 26.

Passero made and implemented the following recommendations that are largely focused on regular surface maintenance:

—Slowing down the tractors significantly during harrowing

—Triple harrowing of the surface before maintenance breaks, once the wrong way and twice the right way

—Moderate watering changes so the surface does not explode under horses’ feet, which has been a regular complaint of horsemen and riders

—Use of drag harrows rather than adjustable harrows on wheels to give the cushion significantly more body

—Horsemen have stated they have concerns about the dirt surface after rain, and it appears the current silt material is holding too much water. This will be observed and addressed going forward.

“My number one goal is to continue to recommend changes to protocols with the goal of getting more body into the cushion,” Passero said in his report to the MRC. “I will also continue to recommend the MJC track crew closely regulate water applications which should make a significant difference. With the recommended adjusted watering and harrowing performed this morning, I have already notice significantly more body in the track.”

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