"I'd like to see them put a little money in to make it look nicer, and I'd like to see them get Friday evening racing. That seems to work elsewhere. You walk in to Laurel and the TVs aren't working, the bathrooms are disgusting. If it's going to be 77 days or 40 days, what's the point? That's no living for me. We have to compete. I don't make money standing around the barn."
Albert has been coming to the races at Laurel since 1981 and started out in the business walking "hots" – horses that have just finished morning gallops. She recalled fond memories of watching a talented apprentice rider named Donnie Miller, the early career of the Hall of Famer Julie Krone, and the International Turf Festival, once a premier event in the racing world between 1952 and 1995.
"I remember seeing it on TV and was so proud of Laurel," she said. "It looked so beautiful."
The track, despite its recent decline, has a majestic history. Much of it is stored in yellowing copies of the Daily Racing Form, dusty stacks of clip albums and 16-millimeter film canisters stacked below a long counter in the press box. Fraying labels attached bespeak a time of great prestige at Laurel, noting the presence of the Aga Khan and Princess Grace.
Laurel Park is the home of renowned trainer King Leatherbury, still active at age 78 and third on the all-time wins list. Jockey Kent Desormeaux set a world record when he rode 589 victories in 1989, primarily at Laurel. The Pimlico Futurity moved to Laurel in 1969 and subsequently was won by legends Secretariat, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and the ill-fated Barbaro.
Sitting outside on a grandstand bench at Saturday's anniversary celebration, Emily Brant, 20, of Laurel, and her parents, Randy and Chris, were attending horse races for the first time.
"I like it," Emily said. "I told my mom it looked like olden times. I already want to come back.
"We thought we'd come out for the birthday bash," Chris Brant said. "Then we found out we know one of the jockeys, Horacio Karamanos. I teach at St. Mary's and his daughter goes there."
Chris Brant made a $5 place bet on a horse ridden by Karamanos and won when it came in second.
Inside the grandstand, Peggy Elliott, of Edgewater, spoke of going to Laurel since she was a girl of 12. Now in her sixties, Elliott, who grew up in Burtonsville, said she used to go to the track every weekend but stopped about 10 years ago.
"I go to Charles Town now," she said of the racetrack in West Virginia that Laurel once dwarfed. "I bet on slots and races. I wish Laurel would get the slot machines."
This story has been corrected.