Laurel Park turf season to end Nov. 19

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Maryland Jockey Club, based on recommendations from its turf consultant and turf maintenance crew, has set Sunday, Nov. 19, as the final day of grass racing this year at Laurel Park.

Logan Freeman, who specializes in turf management and has served as the MJC consultant for several years, noted that several heavy frosts have led the turf course to enter early stages of dormancy, which slows growth and recovery of the course. Thus, it is more susceptible to damage. In addition, seed is no longer germinating in areas where divots have been filled, he said.

Freeman noted there will be two more movements of the rail that will provide a quality racing surface for two more weeks of turf racing, barring adverse weather conditions.

The Laurel turf course has been the focus of a multi-year improvement plan that began several years ago. Freeman provided the following background.

Are there specific things or practices that have led to the course's improvement?

"Beginning in the fall of 2021, agronomic processes were significantly altered. The new agronomic approach to both Laurel Park and Pimlico was developed to mirror that of high-end sports turf facilities, with adjustments made to accommodate equine racing. Agronomic practices like carbon-based fertility and overall biological soil management, in combination with other products to bolster the turf's ability to withstand racing have become staples of the new program. These changes have resulted in turf with superior stress tolerance and recovery, two critical elements in management of an equine turf race surface.

"Also, in the fall of 2021 we began the process of seeding into both courses a mixture of newer varieties of turf-type fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. The current seed mixture is Maryland-certified sod quality and therefore provides superior performance in our climate and in our application of equine racing. We continue to overseed this new mixture each year to further increase its establishment. Aerification and compaction-relief efforts are varied and are routinely performed to encourage rooting and management of organic material (thatch) to the levels we desire to support a high-quality racing surface with optimal plant health.

"In addition to agronomic changes the MJC has developed an extremely strong turf team. Their hard work and dedication cannot be overstated. The team works very hard to repair divots, move rails, manage moisture, mow, detail, and communicate with the overall team at MJC. It is this hard work and dedication from turf superintendent Tony Gatto, his assistant Eduardo Garcia, and the team that have allowed us to make huge positive strides on the turf course over the last couple of seasons.

"New technology has also been implemented this year with the installation of a new weather station that measures 18 turf specific parameters. This allows us to better understand and adjust the agronomic program to the weather and environmental stress on the turf. In combination with this weather station, a new multi-variable sampling tool is used to measure moisture in the track and other components to aid in irrigation practices and race decisions. MJC is the first Thoroughbred turf race facility to have installed this weather station and multi-variable sampling technology."

What is the process/timeline for putting the course to bed for the winter and what is the process/timeline for preparing it as spring approaches?

"As we move through the fall, specific fertilizer and plant protection applications have/will be made to give the turf the nutrition and protection it needs to recover from a long racing calendar. The week after racing ends, we will be performing aerification practices to relieve compaction and to provide easy access of oxygen and water to the rootzone over the winter, all aiding in root development. The turf team will address specific recovery needs and improvements as well.

"In the late fall/early winter, we focus on techniques and practices that aid the turf entering dormancy. In late winter/early spring we shift and aid the turf in exiting dormancy. Each of these processes are variable, yet critical in maintaining a healthy racing surface. We look forward to another strong year on the turf beginning in the spring of 2024."

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