In July 1969, a month before the Woodstock concert in New York, it hosted the Laurel Pop Festival, a two-day rock-and-roll blowout featuring acts like Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone, and three weeks after that, Count Basie, Dizzie Gillespie, Roberta Flack and others headlined the Laurel Jazz Festival. (Old fliers, ticket stubs and a concert program help recall that era.)
And as longtime locals might remember, Jack Kent Cooke's Washington Redskins tried to move their operations to the track during the early 1990s. (One photo shows Jim Lachey, a member of the celebrated "Hogs" offensive line, signing autographs during a publicity appearance at Laurel Park.)
Residents worried about potential congestion and other problems complained so loudly that the idea was shelved.
"The town wouldn't allow it," says Lubieniecki, a public relations professional who has lived in the historic downtown district for 20 years.
Nor has the community always been unanimous in its support of horse racing. At several junctures, residents have tried to encourage more "family friendly" entertainment at the site.
"What about horse riding lessons? Horse shows? Displays or fairs involving other animals?" one commenter writes in a display that asks guests to imagine other uses for the track.
For the most part, though, it's clear that the Sport of Kings is, well, king at Laurel Park.
A pair of tiny, foot-shaped wooden molds from 1953 recalls the legendary Willie Shoemaker; A.W. Kroop and Sons of Laurel, a shoemaking company that remains open to this day, used them to hand-craft boots for the 4-foot-11-inch jockey.
A red uniform evokes Linda Penkala, the first female rider to make the program at Laurel Park, who wore the outfit at the 1982 Ladies Cup in Japan.
Penkala, who still lives in Laurel, remembers male bettors tossing sexist gibes her way even as she sat in the Winner's Circle — moments of discrimination that also belong to the track's history.
"It's a hard thing for a woman to play a man's sport," she recalls. "But just because you don't possess a certain body part doesn't mean you can't ride a horse. Those were great days, and we worked hard to succeed."
If there's any doubt about what might be considered the track's golden era, the exhibition erases it, dedicating a full display to the Washington, D.C., International Stakes, a 12-furlong race on turf held annually between 1952 and 1994.
The brainchild of track president John Schapiro, son of Baltimore industrialist and longtime track owner Morris Schapiro, it was the first international live race held in the U.S., drawing top horses from Europe and pitting them against their American counterparts.
"Today, international sporting events are no big deal, but that was the first intercontinental horse race," Baker says. "That tells you quite a bit about that event, but it also tells you about that time as well."
The International drew ambassadors and entertainment stars from around the world while becoming one of those events at which A-Listers wanted to "wear the latest fashions and see and be seen," Lubieniecki says.
Photos of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, megastar Elizabeth Taylor and a grinning speaker of the House, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, underscore the point.
In 1958, two colts from the Soviet Union, Garnir and Zaryad, appeared in the race, the first time Soviet horses had raced on American soil — an event that, to some, signified that hostile nations could indeed connect at the height of the Cold War. (A vintage photo shows Zaryad in colors trimmed with the hammer and sickle.) A record 40,276 fans watched as Garnir finished fifth and Zaryad 10th.
But the words of sportswriter John Scheinman, included here, might capture best what was magic about the series and in some ways the exhibit that celebrates it.
"They came from all over the world," Scheinman, who now works part time as a copy editor for Baltimore Sun Media Group, wrote of the first running. "The place was packed. Packed! There were dignitaries and they would introduce special politicians. … And it was pageantry. And it was just marvelous. Marvelous! It was a high-minded view of racing."
Organizers knew the glamorous element of racing would attract the public to the exhibit, but soon after they started planning five years ago, they realized it should focus equally on the people who work on the "back side" — in the barns and stables, away from the track and the betting areas — and the impact the track has had on the town of Laurel.
"And They're Off!" teems with the personalities of the trainers, grooms, exercisers, hot walkers, stable boys and others, past and present, who spend their lives behind the scenes, making the visible stuff happen.