LAUREL -- With a $100,000-guaranteed Grade 3 race today and another tomorrow, the grass-racing season in Maryland will end until late April.
For five months, John Passero, director of turf and race courses at Laurel and Pimlico race courses, will have fewer worries, working only with dirt tracks.
Even with rain predicted last night, Passero thought the Laurel turf course would be in good shape for today's Chrysanthemum, which drew 14 fillies and mares. Miss Josh, who missed winning the All Along Stakes by a nose, is favored.
With the rain expected to end today or tonight, the track might be squeezed out enough for a good contest in the Laurel Turf Cup tomorrow. Chas' Whim and Hodges Bay are the top names in that race.
"We've been patching the turf course from the rail out," Passero said yesterday. "We put dirt in the holes. We haven't had any turf racing for a while -- I think it was a week ago Tuesday -- and we've rolled the turf twice. Unless it rains super hard, there's a good chance that a lot of the water can roll off."
When Pimlico's meeting ended in late September, Passero had time to kill weeds and add grass seed for a late growing period.
Pimlico's turf course is scheduled to be used in late April, and Laurel's is not likely to be used until midsummer.
"So, the timing is OK," Passero said. "These two tracks have personalities of their own. Pimlico's has clay in the base, and it's fine unless it just floods. Laurel's has more sand. It's great for summer racing, but when it gets cold like now and the growing season ends, you can be in trouble.
"A horse cuts out a divot now and we replace it. Now it looks good aesthetically, but the divot is dead."
Passero has a rule of thumb that says that for a long race meeting, a turf course can take an average of about 1 1/2 races a day for 30-45 days, "but after two weeks, you begin hoping for rain."
Passero said the turf course tears up first on the first turn, because of the normal wear and tear there.
One of the toughest decisions Passero had to make last year was to recommend that the Selima Stakes and Laurel Futurity be switched to the main track.
"There was so much water in the ground that you could see a horse go by on the turf and the leg would go in 3-4 inches, and then the hole would immediately fill with water," he said. "I suggested that the two races be taken off the turf, and by the next day [when the Budweiser International was set], the turf was back in reasonably good shape."