Mayor Craig Moe didn't look like he was betting with both fists Saturday at Laurel Park, but he didn't exactly come off as a wide-eyed neophyte either as the city of Laurel teamed with the track for a feel-good cross-promotional event.
Inside a former betting area-turned-lounge called the Horse Wizard Room, Moe enjoyed a day at the races along with City Council members Edward Ricks, Donna Crary and Michael Leszcz, as well as other representatives from city government and the police and fire departments.
"I won a few dollars," Moe said late in the afternoon. "I'm not much at picking horses, but when I come through the doors, I know I'm going to contribute to the Laurel economy."
Laurel Park, which sits on the borders of Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties, isn't technically in the city of Laurel, but track and city have a long, mutually beneficial relationship dating back to the track's opening in 1911.
"It's not [in the city], but it is right at our borders, and what happens here affects what happens in our community," Moe said. "We look forward to getting the partnership growing. Laurel Park is supporting the community, and it's a partnership that can only grow.
"I've been out to the track in past years. Representatives from the track came to meet with city officials and wanted to reach out into the community and get people more involved," Moe said.
For the Saturday event, all Laurel residents were offered free admission, parking and a Make a Bet on Us voucher as well as food and drink discounts.
The military also was honored, with a Joint Service Color Guard presenting colors on the track in the afternoon. Active service members and veterans received free admission and concession discounts, too.
Eight merchants, including national chains and locally based businesses, sponsored the day and set up vendor tables in the clubhouse to greet fans and give out coupons.
Some proceeds benefited Horses for Heroes, a non-traditional therapy program for veterans offered by the Maryland Therapeutic Riding Program.
The Laurel Historical Society helped the track celebrate its 100th anniversary two years ago, and the city and Laurel Park management both appear keen to raise a joint profile.
"We started with something small, and it's been fabulous," said Tracey O'Dowd, the track's assistant director of corporate business development. "The mayor has been great with his team … helping me get the word out and supporting our effort. We wanted to make sure we hit the areas that might want to come to the track and spend the day. They were helpful with spreading the word to people and businesses."
Once the leading track in the Mid-Atlantic, Laurel Park fell on hard times in the past decade as neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia aggressively revitalized their racing programs by legalizing alternative gaming, such as slot machines, and channeling revenue into race purses. With slots and table games now legal in Maryland, and a slice of the pie being directed toward purses, the quality of Laurel's racing appears on the upswing. Four stakes races worth a combined $375,000 were run on Saturday.
"Racing is very much a part of Laurel," Leszcz said. "I remember back in 1969 when they ran the [discontinued] International and 50,000 people would come out here."
Although attendance was not announced, there were nowhere near 50,000 people at Laurel on Saturday. The crowd on hand, however, was lively.
The final race of the day was the $100,000 City of Laurel Stakes, which was first run in 1986 but discontinued in the mid-1990s. A horse named Res Judicata, trained by John Servis, won by 4 lengths at odds of 7-1.
Servis trained Smarty Jones, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004.
Afterward, Moe made his way down to the winner's circle and presented the trophy to jockey Kendrick Carmouche, flanked by Leszcz and Crary. A track representative promised a duplicated trophy to Moe.
"We will put that in City Hall," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun