1/ST Racing and the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) announced yesterday evening (April 26) that live racing will resume at Laurel Park this Saturday (April 29) pending approval by the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC). Live racing at Laurel was suspended on April 21 while MJC worked with MRC to address issues of concern related to recent horse injuries and fatalities at the track.
In an April 21 press release, MJC stated, “MJC will also be discussing plans for implementation of updated safety and veterinary protocols similar to those that have been in place in California since 2019 and have proven to significantly reduce the number of equine fatalities during racing and training.”
The following day (April 22), MJC released a second press release stating that they have hired Dennis Moore, a renowned industry expert on racetrack surfaces, to conduct routine testing of Laurel Park’s track surface. The press release stated, “Dennis, along with independent engineering experts, have performed a comprehensive battery of tests during this time, to ensure the safety of our racing surface,” adding, “The results of these tests were all within industry norms. Based on these tests and their professional knowledge, our track experts have advised that there are no issues with the track and it is safe to race and train.”
MJC also requested that Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, Director of Equine Safety and Welfare with HISA, to review the Laurel Park fatality data. According to the April 22 MJC press release, Dr. Durenberger found, “a racing fatality rate at Laurel of approximately 1.3/1,000 starts since January 1 . By comparison, the Equine Injury Database shows a rate of approximately 1.98/1,000 at this same point (through April 21) last year.” Thus showing that the current fatality rate has decreased in 2023.
At the time, horseman decided to independently not submit entries for Thursday, April 20 racing card.
On April 25, it was announced that 1/ST Racing and MJC reached an agreement with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) to allow access to the track by John Passero, a consultant retained by MTHA to make an independent inspection of the dirt racing surface at Laurel Park.
The MRC had called a special meeting on April 25 to address the surface issues. MJC is authorized by statute to identify a third-party consultant to examine the track at the expense of MJC. According to MTHA, MTHA “had had offered to pay Passero to do the work, but the MJC and its parent company, The Stronach Group (1/ST Racing), had refused.” Under the new April 25 agreement, the MTHA will pay Passero. Passero had visited Laurel Park over an year ago at the request of MTHA after previous issues with the surface were discovered.
1/ST Racing received a partial report on April 26 and Aidan Butler, Chief Executive Officer for 1/ST Racing, issued the following statement, “We received the partial report issued today and are pleased it has affirmed the safety of Laurel Park’s dirt surface. While we await the final report, we are gratified that even before Mr. Passero completed his analysis that his recommendation to the Maryland Racing Commission supports the resumption of training at Laurel Park.”
As of April 26, Butler added, “We have not had the opportunity to discuss with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association their statements to the press as to the resumption of racing but reiterate our position as to track safety and the strong rationale for putting in place our industry standard best practices for horses and riders.”