Live horse racing is back after the Maryland Racing Commission approved racing dates for both the Timonium Fair Grounds race track and Laurel Park on Friday.

Timonium will open for the Maryland State Fair meet Aug. 26, which will be the first live racing in the state since Preakness Day in May. The Laurel Park meet begins Sept. 9, with racing expanded to five days a week in October.

The Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash — an elite six-furlong sprint that lost its graded status after not being run last year — will return, as will a pair of historic stakes for 2-year-olds, the Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes.

The Laurel Park stakes schedule, which was approved prior to the commission meeting by both the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association, will include 27 stakes with purses totaling nearly $2.3 million.

The 68-day fall schedule, which runs through through Dec. 17, will also include The Jim McKay Maryland Million. The Million is set for its 26th running Oct. 1. The Maryland Million is a program for the offspring of Maryland-based stallions who are nominated before they turn 2 and remain eligible for life to run in the Million races. Attendance figures have topped 20,000 for the event 21 times.

"It is important to have open stakes races to bolster our daily average purse distribution, which will be $185,000," Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said. "Last year, all 19 stakes races were for Maryland-bred or Maryland-sired runners. To build the business from a handle standpoint, our races have to be more attractive to the simulcast players. Adding the De Francis Dash to the schedule gives us instant credibility, while five of the other seven are scheduled for the turf and that almost guarantees large fields."

Wayne Wright, executive director of the MTHA, said improved revenue has made the addition of five-day-a-week racing, Tuesday through Saturday, and the return of the three stakes possible.

"It's good," he said. "Our horsemen are looking forward to it."

Timonium's races will run Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 2-5.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com