Live thoroughbred racing returns to Laurel Park today for the first time since early spring with a 22-day stand that will accent turf competition and milestones.
"We hope to highlight grass racing as much as possible," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer for the Maryland Jockey Club. "Hopefully, we can maximize this with some cooperation from the weather. It's a very trying time with competition from Monmouth Park and Delaware Park."
Two turf events are on the eight-race opening day card, which has a 1:05 p.m. post time. Patrons will receive free admission, a free program and selected $1 food and beverage concessions today.
Almost twice as long as last year's 13-day Laurel summer meeting, this session features stakes races on each of the eight Saturday and Sunday dates, beginning Saturday with the Grade III, $150,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. That is the only graded event of the meet.
The only other stakes offering a six-figure purse is the $125,000 Straight Deal on Aug. 10.
Veteran jockeys Mario Pino and Mark Johnston are both shooting for significant achievements, with Pino 41 wins shy of becoming the 18th to reach 5,000 and Johnston 43 short of becoming the 102nd to reach 3,000.
In concert with their quests, the Maryland Jockey Club will hold a contest called Milestone Mania for Premier Players (a club for regular patrons) who can correctly guess the day and race when Pino and Johnston hit their milestones. Top prize is Premier Player points equivalent to $2,500.
Patrons will also notice some improvements, most significantly the return of the infield totalizator board that was inoperable during the Preakness meeting at Pimlico Race Course.
The Lumitron served as the only source of betting information in the infield at Pimlico, causing numerous complaints from fans. The big board will also be used at Laurel, but as a supplement to the tote board.
"We've also done a few things to upgrade Laurel," Raffetto said. "We've refurbished the men's bathroom in the second floor of the clubhouse, installed two televisions on each table in the terrace dining room and added televisions in the mezzanine in the grandstand."
Laurel will run through Aug. 23, when action shifts to Timonium for the eight-day meet in conjunction with the State Fair. Pimlico reopens Sept. 4 for the fall meeting highlighted by the Maryland Million.
NOTES: Horatio Karamanos won the riding title at Colonial Downs with 57 victories and became the first in the track's six-year history to exceed $1 million in purse earnings. Ham Smith edged A. Ferris Allen for the training crown, 14-13. ... Colonial is closed until Oct. 5, when a 24-day harness meeting starts.