Horse racing at Laurel Park could resume Saturday after consultant says dirt surface will be ‘safe enough’

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Horse racing at Laurel Park could resume Saturday after a consultant hired by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association found only modest problems with the track’s dirt surface during his inspection Wednesday morning.

The track, which has been closed to racing since two horses suffered fatal injuries last Thursday, will reopen for full training Thursday morning. If feedback from trainers and jockeys is positive after morning workouts, plans for Saturday racing likely will proceed, said Tim Keefe, president of the horsemen’s association.


The Maryland Jockey Club already has accepted entries for that day’s card.

Keefe said the Maryland Racing Commission, which regulates the state industry, has given tentative approval for a Saturday restart pending a final report from the consultant, John Passero.


“John said there’s still a little more work to do at the track in his mind, but if he were an owner or a trainer, he would have absolutely no problem running his own horses on Saturday,” Keefe said Wednesday afternoon. “So we have two more days to finish preparing the track and have everybody sign off on it. But there was nothing but positive feedback today.”

He said Passero recommended maintenance tweaks and suggested the track’s cushion “didn’t have enough body to it” but “by Saturday, it’ll be good enough and safe enough in his mind.”

In a statement, Aidan Butler, CEO of 1/ST Racing, the Jockey Club’s parent company, said the track operator is pleased the report initially affirmed the safety of Laurel Park’s dirt surface and that Passero’s analysis supports the resumption of training.

“We have not had the opportunity to discuss with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association their statements to the press as to the resumption of racing,” Butler continued, “but reiterate our position as to track safety and the strong rationale for putting in place our industry standard best practices for horses and riders.”

Despite the contentious standoff that preceded a Tuesday agreement between the horsemen and the Jockey Club to have Passero inspect the track, Keefe said he and the Jockey Club’s acting president, Mike Rogers, have had smooth, productive communications about implementing the consultant’s suggestions.

“It’s been working great,” Keefe said.

An aerial view of Laurel Park as horses exercise on the track Monday. Racing could resume Saturday after a consultant hired by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association found only modest problems with the track’s dirt surface during his inspection Wednesday morning.

The cooperative tone Wednesday was a far cry from both sides’ messages last weekend, when Keefe warned the industry was facing a “catastrophic emergency” because of Laurel Park’s conditions, while the Jockey Club said its surface expert had deemed the track safe for racing and training.

The squabble comes amid horse racing’s most high-profile time of the year. The Triple Crown races begin in less than two weeks with the Kentucky Derby on May 6 in Louisville, followed by the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 20.


Racing commission Chairman Michael Algeo urged the Jockey Club to cancel racing last weekend after he heard from worried owners and trainers. At an emergency meeting Tuesday, he said that racing at Laurel would not resume until “the commission believes we can run safely.”

Passero, a former superintendent at Laurel and Pimlico, quickly emerged as the consensus choice to resolve the impasse. Horsemen said they would not feel comfortable resuming normal operations until he signed off on the safety of the dirt surface, and the racing commission also placed its trust in his assessment.

“If he didn’t feel the track were good for Saturday, he would say it,” Keefe said. “Part of this is a confidence thing. John’s been here a long time. A lot of the horsemen that are here today … just have that confidence in John.”

Passero’s input also was key when the Jockey Club called off racing for two weekends in December 2021 after a spate of fatal injuries. In that case, officials added more than 1,200 tons of coarse sand to the track’s cushion to address problems they blamed in part on the onset of winter weather.

The fixes required this time are less substantial, Keefe said.

Racing is currently scheduled at Laurel for this weekend and the first weekend in May before a move to Pimlico for the Preakness Meet, which begins May 11.