Live racing returns to Maryland after COVID-19 shutdown

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: May 31, 2020

The Maryland Racing Commission May 28 approved the parameters of the Laurel Park summer meet, effectively allowing the track to reopen for live racing May 30 with only essential personnel permitted on the grounds.

Laurel scheduled three racing programs its first week back—Saturday, Sunday and Monday (May 30-June 1)—and will follow with three days of racing (Friday, Saturday and Monday) the following weekend. It’s expected racing will be held twice a week thereafter on Fridays and Saturdays until further notice.

The Maryland Jockey Club submitted a request for 28 racing days for the Laurel summer meet. It was noted the facility will be closed to the public pending changes in state limits on the number of people allowed to attend events because of COVID-19.

The MJC, in conjunction with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, The Stronach Group and MedStar Health, prepared a lengthy document outlining protocols and procedures necessary for COVID-19 mitigation when live racing commences at Laurel and presented it to state officials. Before racing was suspended in mid-March, Laurel raced three days with no patrons permitted under the governor’s executive order.

Maryland COVID-19 protocols for live racing

Many of the protocols and best practices were already in place for training in the stable areas at Laurel and Pimlico Race Course. The MJC said it contemplates “live racing only at Laurel Park for the duration of COVID-19 restrictions in order to limit the travel of personnel, horsemen and horses.”

“This is fantastic news,” MTHA President Tim Keefe said. “We were hopeful live racing would return in May. It has been a difficult couple of months for the entire Maryland racing industry, and we’d like to thank all the owners, trainers and hundreds of backstretch employees who remained dedicated to the care, health and welfare of our racehorses during the shutdown of live racing. We will have some challenges moving forward given the fluid COVID-19 situation, but the MTHA continues to be strongly committed to ensuring the future success of our industry in the state.”

The MTHA will regularly provide updates on changes in protocol or restrictions which will be revised as conditions change.

“These past two months or so have been incredibly challenging,” MRC Chairman Mike Algeo said. “Many people in the racing industry worked very hard to get us to this point.”

At the outset, Laurel will accept entries for only Maryland-based horses—those stabled at Laurel, Pimlico, Fair Hill Training Center and farms in the state. The MJC earlier took inventory of available horses at its two racetracks and fashioned the new condition book accordingly.

“It will be nice to get the economic engine going again,” MJC President Sal Sinatra said. “Everyone has been so tolerant and has been following the health and safety guidelines (on the backstretch). We’re very thankful for this opportunity.”

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)