The Maryland Jockey Club has canceled three planned racing cards for this weekend and will shift the remainder of its spring meet to Pimlico Race Course as officials continue to assess problems with the main track surface at Laurel Park.
The Jockey Club said Wednesday that the track at Laurel had “not responded sufficiently to wintertime cushion repairs.” Trainers have been limited to galloping their horses on recent days but will be allowed to hold workouts at Pimlico starting Sunday. The Jockey Club will provide van service from Laurel Park, where many of the state’s leading thoroughbred trainers are based.
Racing will shift to Pimlico on April 22, with eight dates scheduled for the rest of the spring meet. Those cards include the Spring Stakes Spectacular, which will be run April 24 and feature seven stakes races. The Preakness meet at Pimlico was already scheduled to begin May 6 and run through Memorial Day. The Jockey Club said racing will continue at Pimlico “until further notice.”
The maintenance problems have added to a difficult spring for the Jockey Club, which previously canceled two weekends of racing because of an equine herpesvirus outbreak that touched both Laurel Park and Pimlico.
The Jockey Club’s track superintendent, Chris Bosley, is working with Dr. Mick Peterson of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and Dennis Moore, senior track superintendent for The Stronach Group, to fix the track at Laurel.
Stronach Group COO Aidan Butler said in a statement he has “full confidence” that the trio will “deliver a rehabilitated main-track surface cushion that will offer superior training and racing to the benefit of Maryland horsemen for years to come.”
During an online meeting with horsemen Friday afternoon, Butler said he received “a heads up last week that the track was not performing as well as we’d like it to.”
“It’s going to be a heck of a lot of work, and unfortunately, it’s going to be a heck of a lot of inconvenience,” he said of the resurfacing project.
The Jockey Club has not announced a timeline for repairs, but Stronach Group Senior Vice President Steve Koch said the project will take at least two weeks.
Horsemen expressed frustrations with the situation, which has hampered their training and racing plans after a trying year.
“Certainly, issues of this magnitude don’t happen overnight,” said Tim Keefe, president of the Maryland Horsemen’s Association. He noted that one of the owners he trains for recently called and said he won’t be sending horses to Maryland this year.
Keefe said he’s nonetheless determined to look forward. He and MTHA board member Dale Capuano met with Jockey Club and Stronach Group officials Friday morning.
“I feel confident no expenses are going to be spared,” Keefe said.
Other horsemen said they’re concerned about the stresses of shipping horses back and forth from Pimlico to Laurel as they prepare for the April 24 stakes card. “It’s just not fair,” said veteran trainer Linda Gaudet.
Farm owner and trainer Gina Robb wondered why the Jockey Club and Stronach Group waited as long as they did to address problems with the surface, noting she witnessed an ugly breakdown two weeks ago at Laurel Park.
“I don’t agree that it took us so long,” Koch said. “We knew the track was not coming out of the wintertime well.”
Peterson, the racing surfaces specialist, pointed to a bad weather pattern and difficulties obtaining materials as reasons for the maintenance troubles. He described the current rehabilitation effort as an opportunity to make enduring improvements. “I see this as changing the operational mode,” he said.