Purses are up, stakes and turf races are on the rise and more trainers and horses are coming to fill the stalls at the Bowie Training Center and Laurel Park, which opens its fall meet Wednesday.
"Everybody is pretty excited," Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georganne Hale said. "Everything is looking so positive. The purses are so much bigger [having grown from a daily average of $180,000 last year to $240,000]. Other trainers are putting in applications for stalls. We've added stakes and raised their payoffs. We're all anticipating a better meet."
The 17-week meet kicks off Wednesday with a nine-race card that includes the $100,000 Jameela Stakes, one of four turf races scheduled. Turf races are the most popular on the card because they traditionally draw larger fields and offer tight competition, Hale said.
"Last year, our horse population was really down [below 1,300]," Hale said. "This year, it's looking very good. I think I'll fill our 1,700 stalls at Bowie and Laurel through the winter. But right now I'm just praying the weather holds this fall because we're going to run as many turf races as we can. I have four opening day and that's what we'll try to run every day — though I might squeeze in a fifth occasionally."
The morning line favorite in the Jameela is Jazzy Idea, at 2-1. Trained by Edwin Merryman, Jazzy Idea comes into the race after spending the summer at Saratoga Race Course. Jockey Luis Garcia will ride the 3-year-old, who has a pair of stakes wins on the turf this year.
Garcia and Jazzy Idea will have their eyes on Bold Affair (5-2), who had three straight stakes wins this spring in Maryland before finishing second in the Sweet and Sassy Stakes at Delaware Park in June. Abel Castellano will ride the daughter of Two Punch.
Castellano currently leads all Maryland jockeys with 73 wins this year, while Sheldon Russell, who won the Laurel meet title last fall, is right behind with 70.
A year ago, Russell won 195 races and $4.2 million in purses. He is on pace to achieve career bests with 202 wins and more than $4.5 million in purses in 2012.
"Winning the overall riding title and reaching 200 wins are my goals," Russell said. "I think the main reason I'm doing so well is that I'm staying healthy and I've got a good agent in Marty Leonard who is doing a great job of getting me the best horse in every race."
Russell comes to town Friday and will ride in six of the 10 races. He'll also be aboard Eighttofasttocatch in the $150,000 Japan Racing Association Stakes on Saturday as the horse prepares for the Oct. 6 Maryland Million Classic, where he is the defending champion.
Laurel Park will have live racing four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, through the end of the year, excluding holidays.