When Laurel Park opens this afternoon, trainer Ferris Allen III will be among the happiest men at the racetrack.
Allen lives in Jessup, just 15 minutes from the track, and most of his horses are stabled there.
"It's a chance to be back at home," he said, repeating what other trainers are saying after months of travel.
For those with operations based at Laurel, Bowie and Pimlico, this 78-day meet, which will utilize both the upgraded dirt and the new turf courses, is a welcome relief from summer travel to places such as Delaware Park, Colonial Downs (Va.) and even Timonium, where the Maryland State Fair meet ended Monday.
Laurel will offer live racing on Wednesdays through Saturdays in September and add Sunday racing the first week of October.
Highlighting the meet will be the 20th running of the Maryland Million on Oct. 8 and the Fall Festival of Racing Nov. 19, headlined by the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash.
The meet will feature 39 stakes races with purses in excess of $4 million, including today's $75,000 Twixt Stakes, for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies.
The early favorite in the 11-horse field is Yolanda B. Too of West Point Stable. Maryland's leading jockey, Ryan Fogelsonger, who is returning today after missing most of the summer season because of a back injury, will ride Magical Broad in the Twixt Stakes, part of an entry for trainer Richard "Dickie" Small.
"I think this stakes is fairly evenly matched," said Small, who has also entered a horse named Sticky. "But my horses showed some promise, I have two good riders and the horses are well-trained."
For Fogelsonger, who said last week he wanted to take it a little easy on his return with an average of five rides a day, Magical Broad is to be one of seven mounts on opening day.
"You don't just agree to ride five horses and expect all five will go," said Fogelsonger's agent, Kevin Witte. "But, in this case, they all went. We'll hope we get a scratch."
The newly finished turf course is an anticipated part of the program. Maryland Jockey Club chief operating officer Lou Raffetto said he is planning four turf races a day through November on the grand course that measures 142 feet wide.
"Having the turf course is terrific," Allen said. "If the course can take the wear they believe it can, it may change the way we stock our stables."
Allen has two grass horses entered today. One, Elusive King, is a horse from Florida who shipped in to run the grass at Colonial Downs this summer and has stayed. And the other is Newsbreak, who Allen also bought with the purpose of running him on Colonial's grass while Laurel's course was being redeveloped.
"You know how they're always saying Dale Capuano has been the leading trainer in Maryland for seven of the last eight years?" Allen said. "Well, I'm the guy who won it the other year - in 1999. Dale's very good and very tough to beat, but we're going to be a force at this meet."