Laurel opens meet with revitalized spirit Posts will be drawn today for Saturday's Million


They've done their running at Timonium, Colonial Downs, Delaware Park and tracks up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Today, after a 6 1/2 -week hiatus, thoroughbreds return to Laurel Park.

Even before they run the first of 10 races at 1 p.m., track officials will draw post positions for Saturday's Maryland Million races. A brunch for that commences at 11 a.m. in the Ruffian Room.

For the second straight year, the state's thoroughbred tracks ceased live racing while the bulk of Maryland horses competed at Colonial Downs in New Kent County, Va. The break was designed in part to reinvigorate fans, track employees and Maryland racing in general.

"When we came back last year, I sensed a greater enthusiasm," said Joe De Francis, majority owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park. "People had a spring in their step you normally see only at the Preakness.

"I've long maintained that no sport can have a 12-month-long season and be successful. You can't just keep grinding it out day after day after day."

The highlight of Laurel Park's fall season comes quickly -- the 11 races Saturday that make up the 13th annual Maryland Million Day. From the $25,000 Maryland Million Steeplechase Handicap to the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, the races showcase horses sired by Maryland stallions.

Purses total $1,025,000, and the day features activities for families -- in addition to a free "Maryland Million beanie horse" to 4,000 paid customers. Post time is 12: 30 p.m. on Maryland Million Day.

Today, Laurel Park offers free grandstand admission ($2 for the clubhouse and Sports Palace), a free program for Maryland races and $1 food and drink concessions, excluding alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. Those concession prices will be offered every Wednesday in October.

The track kicks off its fall stakes schedule today with the $35,000 Park Heights Stakes, a six-furlong sprint on turf for fillies and mares. Then, 21 stakes worth $100,000 or more, including seven Grade IIIs, will be contested through the end of November.

"People are relieved we're back racing live again," said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "They want the circus back in town."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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