There’s detente in the dispute between Maryland’s Thoroughbred horsemen and the owner of the state’s two Thoroughbred racetracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, in a dispute over the racing conditions at Laurel. But a final resolution hasn’t been achieved.
And until there is, there will be no racing at Laurel Park.
Tuesday, at an emergency meeting of the state’s Horse Racing Commission, it was announced that the two sides have agreed to allow an examination of the dirt track at Laurel by former Maryland track superintendent John Passero. He, presumably, could elect to make recommendations.
Only once those recommendations are made and the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel Park, addresses the concerns about track conditions, will the Racing Commission allow racing to resume at Laurel. The state has pari-mutuel wagering on horses as well as legal, regulated Maryland sports betting.
Moratorium on Maryland Horse Racing
The race card scheduled this Thursday at Laurel was canceled after horsemen held their horses out of racing in sufficient numbers to make racing problematic. The de facto moratorium on racing will continue until the Racing Commission is satisfied that it should resume.
Reports indicated that on April 20, two incidents occurred at Laurel that resulted in equine fatalities. And for this month, there have reportedly been five such fatalities.
The Racing Commission noted at Tuesday’s meeting, “We cannot afford to get this wrong.”
A Commission executive said there is no way to predict when racing will resume at Laurel, but that the situation is “better today than yesterday.” The two sides – horsemen and the track owner – agreed to the surface assessment and possible recommendations by Passero.
Canada-based 1/ST Racing, formerly known as The Stronach Group, owns the Maryland Jockey Club, and the MJC operates both race tracks as well as the Preakness Stakes.
Possible Next Steps
After the incidents last Thursday, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association raised heightened concerns and pressed to have the remaining race dates at Laurel this spring moved to Pimlico. The short spring meet schedule at the Baltimore track is slated to start May 11.
Laurel’s live schedule for 2023 is set to end May 7. Pimlico picks up May 11 and the Preakness Stakes is May 20. The last live racing date at Pimlico is May 29.
In the dispute over the Laurel track surface, the Maryland Jockey Club contended that the incidence of fatalities at Laurel was lower this year than last year. The horsemen, in pressing their concerns, withheld horses from racing. That led to Thursday’s card being called off and the Racing Commission then called Tuesday’s emergency meeting.
One thing the Racing Commission made clear was that racing on the Laurel surface would not resume until all necessary safety measures, meaning a track assessment and action that may be required, are done.
There were dozens of horse deaths in 2018-19 at California’s Santa Anita Park, which 1/ST Racing also owns. Those fatalities, reportedly up to 49, drew national attention, but the death rate at Santa Anita dropped in subsequent years.
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