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Racing to resume Thursday at Laurel Park after two weekends of cancellations in response to fatal breakdowns

Racing at Laurel Park will resume Thursday after two weekends of cancellations in response to a series of eight fatal breakdowns.

The Maryland Racing Commission met Tuesday and took no action to prevent the reopening after receiving assurances from track officials, outside experts, trainers and jockeys that the dirt surface is in better shape than it was before the shutdown, which began after three horses suffered fatal fractures over Thanksgiving weekend.

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“We have seen a dramatic improvement to the cushion,” said Mike Rogers, president of the racing division for The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. “The feedback we’ve been getting has been very, very positive. … We are in position to begin racing again.”

He said The Stronach Group has added 1,200 tons of coarse sand to make the track safer for winter use.

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Laurel Park reopened for timed workouts on Friday, and more than 200 horses worked over the weekend. Trainers, who had expressed serious concerns about the surface before the shutdown, praised the improvements.

“We’re definitely seeing a different racetrack out here; I think everything is moving in the right direction,” said Tim Keefe, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and a trainer who worked his horses at Laurel Park last weekend.

Several jockeys offered similar thoughts. “The difference on the surface of the track is 20 times better than it was,” said veteran rider Xavier Perez.

The MTHA called in former Laurel and Pimlico track superintendent John Passero to monitor the improvements as an independent consultant, and he said the track is safe to reopen. “It’s a changed racetrack out there,” he said, noting that he has examined the surface almost every morning since the project began. “It seems kinder to horses … and I think it can only get better.”

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Commission members described this as a “watershed” moment for encouraging better communications between all interested parties regarding preventative track safety. “We’re going to stay on this,” chairman Michael Algeo said.

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