Laurel Park (Laurel, MD)
(Racing Dates: 01/01/2020 - 03/22/2020, 03/27/2020 - 05/03/2020, 05/29/2020 - 08/23/2020, 09/11/2020 - 12/31/2020)
Laurel Park is an American thoroughbred racetrack located just outside Laurel, Maryland which opened in 1911. The track is 1 1⁄8 miles in circumference. Its name was changed to "Laurel Race Course" for several decades until returning to the "Laurel Park" designation in 1994.
Laurel Park Racecourse opened October 2, 1911 under the direction of the Laurel Four County Fair. In 1914, New York businessmen and prominent horsemen, Philip J. Dwyer and James Butler purchased the track and appointed Matt Winn as the general manager. In 1918 the field was used by Army Engineers as a training camp before deployment to France. In 1946, a stable fire broke out with 60 horses saved. In 1947, the Maryland Jockey Club, which owned Timonium and Pimlico, purchased Laurel Park from the Butler estate with the idea of shifting the Pimlico meeting to Laurel.
After the Maryland General Assembly rejected the idea of replacing Pimlico with Laurel Park, the track was sold in 1950 to Morris Schapiro who had his youngest son, John D. Schapiro as the track's new president.
From 1950 to 1984, Laurel Park underwent a period of great change. The track was renamed Laurel Race Course and the Washington, D.C. International was introduced at 1 1⁄2 miles on the turf. In 1953 Laurel opened a new clubhouse and turf club. In 1954, 14 horses were saved from another stable fire.
In 1957 the grandstand was remodeled. In an effort to improve conditions for the International, Laurel lengthened its turf course from seven furlongs to one mile in 1959; simultaneously, the main track was extended from one mile to one mile and one-eighth. In 1964, an intentionally set stable fire destroyed 34 horses.
In 1965, the trotting track was covered with an artificial 3M "Tartan Turf". Laurel remodeled its clubhouse and grandstand to accommodate winter racing in 1966, enclosing the track's seating area with 30,000 square feet of half-inch-thick glass. In 1967, another fire was set on two stables which was mitigated by new sprinklers.
When Laurel was awarded the summer racing dates in 1982, the track installed an air conditioning system in the grandstand and clubhouse. In 1984, the 34-year Schapiro era ended with the sale of the track.
Laurel entered a new era in December 1984, when governor Harry Hughes's selection for Economic Development secretary Frank J. De Francis and his partners, Robert and John "Tommy" Manfuso, purchased the racetrack from Schapiro before racetrack legislation would pose a conflict of interest.
Laurel Park Racecourse was updated in 1985 with an innovative creation of the 'Sports Palace'. In August 1989, Frank DeFrancis died and his son, Joe DeFrancis, then served as president of Laurel and Pimlico. In 1994 the track's name returned to "Laurel Park". Yet more improvements included those to the main entrance, Grandstand interior and backstretch barns.
In 1994, an effort to redevelop land occupied by Laurel Park and its adjacent properties was attempted to relocate the Washington Redskins Stadium at the crossroads of Whiskey Bottom Road and Brock Bridge Road. Citizens and clergy launched a successful effort that killed the proposal. A lack of sufficient parking space was a significant factor in the decision.
In 1999, at Laurel Park, the MJC broke ground on a new $1.85 million backstretch housing project, Laurel Commons, in cooperation with Laurel Quality of Life, Inc., the Enterprise Foundation, Inc. and the Ryan Family Foundation, Inc.
In addition, Laurel Park, as part of a $16 million multi-year renovation plan, opened four premier Clubhouse areas: "Tycoons," an upscale cigar and brandy bar with an excellent television presentation of racing and other sporting events; "Sunny Jim's," a simulcast theater with individual carrels, and food & beverage service; "Clocker's Corner," a casual simulcast theater and cafe in a convenient track-side location and the "Kelso Club," a premier accommodation for VIP customers with concierge service.
Magna Entertainment Corp. purchased the track on July 15, 2002 and announced an alliance with The Maryland Jockey Club designed to raise the level of Maryland thoroughbred racing to new heights. Another renovation of Laurel Park's track and facility in 2004 to early January 2005 widened both racing surfaces.
After Magna's bankruptcy in 2009, Penn National Gaming and MI Developments began a joint ownership of the Maryland Jockey Club in 2010 for operation of Laurel Park.
The Stronach Group bought out Penn National's minority ownership of the Maryland Jockey Club in June 2011. In May 2011, Frank Stronach gave up leadership of MI Development in exchange for Magna's former gaming assets, giving him control over Laurel Park.
In 2013, following a failed attempt to introduce slot machine gambling, Laurel Park owners Stronach Group announced plans to use the Maryland Racetrack Facility Redevelopment Account to fund year-round racing, facility improvements and a tunnel under the adjacent B&O railroad tracks, connecting to a 1000-unit transit-oriented development called Laurel Park Station on the Howard County portion of the Racetrack property. In 2018, the track began using a GPS-based timing system.
In October 2019, as part of an agreement between The Stronach Group and the city of Baltimore to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, plans were announced for Laurel Park to undergo facility upgrades. Under the proposal,
The Stronach Group would donate both Pimilco and Laurel Park to newly-established government entities that would oversee the properties, with Stronach licensed to conduct the race meets. Laurel's grandstand would be demolished and replaced, and new dirt, synthetic and grass surfaces for racing would be installed.
New housing for backstretch workers and new barns would also be constructed. The plans would have to be approved by the Maryland state legislature when they convene in 2020, as existing state laws would have to be modified in order for the proposal to be realized.
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