Laurel now aims at Dec. 26 opening

Surface reconstruction remains rocky process

Horse Racing

October 09, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

On June 8, Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, told the Maryland Racing Commission he had a "99 percent level of confidence we can get the project done on time."

He was speaking about rebuilding the track surfaces at Laurel Park. New dirt and turf tracks were to be finished by the end of September, and today's Maryland Million was to have taken place at Laurel.

Yesterday, MJC and Magna Entertainment Corp. officials sent a letter to the racing commission saying that racing would not return to Laurel until Dec. 26. They'd announced earlier that the turf course wouldn't be sodded until next spring.

Jim Gagliano, executive vice president of Maryland racing operations, said in an interview that the delays involved "making sure our base and foundation are strong and will withstand the next 30 years of racing."

Others who have followed the project said it's been beset by mistakes and design changes. Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and John Franzone, a member of the racing commission, said they believe an outside expert should be brought in.

"We need a second opinion in a big way," Franzone said. "You're building a winter racetrack on a swamp. There was not the planning and forethought that should have gone into this."

Hoffberger said at this point horsemen would prefer the work be done properly, even if it takes more time.

"The question is, do they have the expertise to do this thing?" he said, referring to Magna's crews.

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