Maryland Holding Emergency Meeting In Wake of Laurel Park Horse Deaths

Maryland Holding Emergency Meeting In Wake of Laurel Park Horse Deaths
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

The Maryland Horse Racing Commission will be holding an emergency meeting Tuesday morning where Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course on the agenda. The meeting will be 11 a.m. on April 25 at Laurel Park, and available via Google Meet.

Using language such as “catastrophic emergency”, horsemen in the state have asked the racing commission to address safety issues at Laurel Park where there have been five equine fatalities this month, including two fatal injuries on Thursday, April 20.

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association are raising the safety concerns and are pressing to have the remaining spring race dates at Laurel Park, in the city of Laurel, moved to Pimlico Race Course. The Baltimore track’s short spring meet is scheduled to start May 11 in the state that offers Maryland sports betting.

Laurel’s live schedule is set to run through May 7. Pimlico picks up May 14 and the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, is scheduled for May 20. The last live racing date at Pimlico is May 29.

Same Entity Owns Both Maryland Tracks

Both tracks, as well as the Preakness Stakes, are operated by the Maryland Jockey Club. That entity, in turn, is owned by Canada-based 1/ST Racing, formerly known as The Stronach Group. The Canadian company also owns Santa Anita Park, which saw dozens of equine fatalities, reportedly 49, in 2018-19 in a spate that drew national attention. Fatalities at Santa Anita dropped in subsequent years.

In Maryland, the Maryland Jockey Club has argued that Laurel Park’s current rate of fatalities is statistically lower than in previous racing seasons.

The MJC said that an official with the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority reported that the racing fatality rate at Laurel since Jan. 1, as 1.3/1,000 starts. For the same time in 2022, the rate was higher, 1.98/1,000, according to one database.

Laurel Park’s Thursday Card Scrapped

However, horsemen remain concerned for horses and jockeys. To press the safety issue, enough horses are being held out of races scheduled at Laurel for Thursday, April 27, that the MJC has cancelled the race card for that day. The status of following race dates is unclear.

With the dispute between the horsemen and the track owner boiling over, Bobby Lillis, a retired executive director at the Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Foundation and a Maryland Racing Commission member tweeted:

“The MRC will have an emergency hearing on Tues. 4/25 11am @ Laurel Park. We encourage all who care about MD Racing to appear. Your voice is important, this will be an opportunity to be heard. Safety and Welfare of our horses and jockeys has been and will ALWAYS be our priority.”

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Bill Ordine

Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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