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Laurel Park cancels horse racing for second straight week as track improvements continue

The Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, The Stronach Group, have canceled a second weekend of racing at Laurel Park as officials continue working on improvements to the track’s dirt surface after eight horses suffered fatal breakdowns in October and November.

The Stronach Group’s chief operating officer, Aidan Butler, and the president of its racing division, Mike Rogers, appeared before the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday to request the schedule change and answer questions about what went wrong with the racing surface.

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“If I don’t think it’s safe, we will not be racing,” Butler said, noting that he hopes the track will re-open for timed workouts Friday and for racing next week.

The racing commission will meet again Tuesday to decide whether racing should proceed, with the first card targeted for Thursday, Dec. 16. The dirt surface at Laurel Park has been closed to timed workouts since the beginning of last week, and racing was canceled last weekend.

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Rogers said that after consulting with its own surface expert and a pair of outside consultants — including former Laurel and Pimlico Race Course track superintendent John Passero — The Stronach Group is using additional sand to “add body” to the track’s cushion.

Members of the racing commission, the appointed panel that regulates the state’s industry, peppered Butler and Rogers with questions about their management of the surface and their lack of communication with horsemen, who expressed concerns that the track was too hard before the catastrophic injuries began to mount.

“This has to be a collaborative effort,” commission chairman Michael Algeo said.

“There has to be an open line of communication,” Butler answered. “Maybe that wasn’t always the case.”

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