Racing Resumes At Laurel Park On Thursday; Commission Meeting Stresses Need For Continued Communication - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Racing Resumes At Laurel Park On Thursday; Commission Meeting Stresses Need For Continued Communication

Live racing will return to Laurel Park this Thursday, Dec. 16 for the first time since Nov. 28, the Maryland Racing Commission confirmed during a Zoom meeting on Tuesday.

The main track at Laurel was closed for an examination on Nov. 29 after an alarming number of fatalities – four from racing injuries and three while training – occurred between Nov. 6-28. The Maryland Jockey Club followed that inspection by cancelling racing and suspending morning workouts to allow for repair of the surface.

It was the second time in 2021 that racing at Laurel was halted because of track conditions. The first occurrence was in April after a spike in musculoskeletal injuries, which led to racing being shifted to Pimlico on an emergency basis. Track ownership undertook a multi-million dollar track renovation project that wasn't completed until August, with racing resuming at Laurel in September.

With help from noted trackmen Dennis Moore from California, Glen Kozak from the New York Racing Racing Association, and former MJC track superintendent John Passero, Maryland Jockey Club officials explained at last week's meeting that the most likely explanation for the cluster of fatalities was that water seeped into a seam in the base material of the stretch before that base material was able to cure, causing a slight depression. That has been repaired, and several additional changes have been made.

“We've been out every single day, day and night, to make sure that we have the best racing surface possible,” said Laurel's track superintendent Chris Bosley. “There's been a huge learning curve with this material and this track from when it was put in in July to where we are now.

“Everyone knows that this is a different material, different track, and everything is brand new on this racetrack. We're getting as much information as possible, and we're not going to stop until this thing is perfect, and then we'll do everything we can to keep it perfect.”

Laurel's main track reopened for workouts on Dec. 10, with 55 horses working Friday, 123 on Saturday, 56 on Sunday, 20 on Monday and another 15 on Tuesday.

“We've seen a drastic improvement in the track cushion,” said Mike Rogers, president of racing at the MJC. “The feedback that we've been getting is very positive.”

Horsemen's representative Tim Keefe echoed those sentiments on Tuesday's call: “We're definitely seeing a different racetrack out here… I think everything's moving in the right direction.”

Several jockeys also joined the call to praise the improved track surface, including Xavier Perez.

“The difference in the surface of the track is 20 times better than it was,” he said. “My opinion is that the track is just perfect.”

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With all parties on the call agreeing that the track surface was safe for racing to resume, the Maryland Racing Commission made no action to prevent Laurel Park from doing so on Thursday. Cards for Thursday, Dec. 16 and Friday, Dec. 17 have already been drawn.

Rogers went on to stress the importance of continuing open lines of communication between all parties.

“If we don't know it, we can't address it,” said Rogers.

A presentation from Dr. Thomas Bowman, chair of the MRC's Equine Health, Safety and Welfare Advisory Committee, continued that theme.

“Transparency and trust and communication have not always been a part of the culture on the racetrack,” Dr. Bowman said. “I have gotten an absolute thrill out of serving in this capacity because every person I have talked to has gone out of their way to at least appear to be cooperative. There doesn't seem to be any indication in my mind that there is any party or parties who aren't willing to step up.”

That said, Dr. Bowman doesn't believe that the process by which information from the trainers and exercise riders and jockeys gets to the MJC officials and the trackmen is sufficient.

“We're trying to come up with a system that will allow the horsemen and the riders and the vets to all have input, and that that input is collected on a regular basis, and put in the responsible hands… If we had had a collection system, possibly we could have avoided this tragedy in the first place.

“I don't think this is the end of this process, I think this is the beginning. It's a work in progress… It appears to be a watershed moment in the way that this has changed.”

The Maryland Racing Commission meets again on Jan. 4.

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