The Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association have set their schedule for the rest of 2009, and it includes the return of the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Dash after a one-year hiatus.
After a 10-week break, live racing will return to Maryland on Aug. 1 at Laurel Park. The 11-day summer stand will conclude Aug. 23, with live racing taking place Friday (3:35 p.m. twilight post time), Saturday and Sunday for three consecutive weeks after opening weekend. That's one more day of summer racing than the MTHA held last year, according to Mike Gathagan, vice president-communications of the Maryland Jockey Club.
The mini-meet will include Maryland-bred stakes races Aug. 1 (Humphrey Finney), Aug. 15 (Mister Diz) and Aug. 22 (Pearl Necklace).
"Racing in August was significant to the horsemen, and bringing back the De Francis Dash to headline the fall meet was just as important to us," said Tom Chuckas, Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer. "We are hopeful the Friday, Saturday, Sunday format in August, coupled with our first-class turf course, will breathe life into the mini-meet."
After the seven-day Timonium state fair meet (Aug. 28 through Sept. 7), the 2009 fall stand will begin Sept. 12 at Laurel Park. The 14-week meet will feature live racing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons (with the Columbus holiday excluded) through Dec. 19.
The 57-day stand is topped by the 24th annual Maryland Million (Sept. 26), a 12-race stakes program for Maryland-sired horses, and the return of Laurel's marquee race, the $300,000 De Francis Dash, which was not carded in 2008 because of a purse account shortfall, on Oct. 24.
The De Francis Dash is one of just three Grade I races contested in Maryland, along with the Preakness, the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown, and the historic Pimlico Special.
The move comes after trainer Chip Woolley, Borel and the jockey's agent could not agree on a long-term commitment.
Borel could have been aboard the gelding for his next scheduled start in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1. But Woolley said he wants someone committed to ride Mine That Bird through the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., in November.
"We're going to try to find a rider that can commit to riding Mine That Bird through the season," Woolley said Wednesday. "He has other commitments and an inability to commit to ride my horse."
Borel rode Mine That Bird to a dramatic come-from-behind win in the Kentucky Derby. Changing mounts in the Preakness, he rode filly Rachel Alexandra to a win before riding Mine That Bird to third place in the Belmont. Mine That Bird was second in the Preakness, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.