Work on Laurel racing surfaces behind schedule

Rain to blame

Timonium opens today

jockeys tie

Horse Racing

August 28, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Pimlico Race Course closed yesterday with a mad scramble for the jockeys' title. Racing at Timonium will begin today amid the cozy atmosphere of the state fair. But the focus of Maryland racing remains Laurel Park, where work continues on the rebuilding of the racing surfaces.

The new dirt and turf tracks were supposed to be ready this fall, but because of summer rains, progress has been slower than expected, said Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. He said the laying of sod on the 142-foot-wide turf course has been postponed until April, meaning turf racing could commence there in July.

That has allowed workers to concentrate on finishing the dirt track, Raffetto said. He said the plan still calls for the track to be ready for training Oct. 1 and for racing Oct. 15, when Laurel Park is slated to reopen.

In addition, he said, the Laurel infield has been reshaped and will be extensively landscaped. A state-of-the-art infield video board will be installed, as well, he said. Finally, work across Brock Bridge Road to build 14 barns and three dormitories is scheduled to begin with land clearing in a couple of weeks, Raffetto said. He said construction is to start in January.

Horses from Laurel have been stabled primarily at Pimlico and Timonium since mid-June, when work on the Laurel tracks began. The 490 horses at Timonium will have to leave about Sept. 20 to make room for the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale Oct. 4-6.

Raffetto said most should then be able to return to Laurel (just to walk and jog under the shedrow), and others will have to be stabled in temporary stalls at Pimlico.

"We know this is not anyone's ideal solution ... " MJC officials wrote in a letter to horsemen.

Meanwhile, racing's summer respite at Timonium gets under way at 1 p.m. today. Racing will continue in conjunction with the state fair tomorrow and then Wednesday through Sept. 6, which is Labor Day. Two $50,000 stakes are scheduled, the Alma North next Saturday and the Taking Risks on Labor Day.

"At Pimlico, the 16-day summer meet ended with Erick Rodriguez and Chip Van Hassel tied for the jockeys' crown with 16 wins each. Van Hassel began the day two ahead, but Rodriguez won three to move ahead 16-15. Van Hassel won the eighth race to tie and then had to watch as Rodriguez, in the finale, finished second.

"That was the most stressful race I've ever watched," Van Hassel said. "He had the lead most of the way."

Dale Capuano won his ninth straight Pimlico training title, saddling six winners.

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