In a May 28 meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission, members unanimously approved the decision to open Laurel Park to resume live racing beginning May 30. Simulcast, intertrack, and common pool wagering are approved to begin as early as May 29.
The Laurel Park summer meet will encompass 28 days of racing starting May 30 and ending Aug. 22. Racing will be held on a Friday and Saturday basis without the presence of spectators. Any changes to the decision to open the grounds to fans is dependent upon a change in the state’s executive order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
“We respectfully submitted, with approval by the horsemen, those dates based on the funds we have available for the purses in the purse account with the lack of casino wagering,” said Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club. “For the time being, during this pandemic, the backstretch has been operating under very stiff protocols. I thank the horsemen and riders and everyone taking care of those animals. We respectfully request that we have those dates to attempt to do what our neighbors have been doing—running fan free.”
On March 12, Gov. Hogan issued an executive order prohibiting the gathering of more than 250 people in a public space. At the time, Laurel Park was conducting live racing without the presence of spectators. The track continued to run horses through March 15, when the governor issued a follow-up order to close the tracks to the public for public wagering.
Alan Rifkin, attorney for The Stronach Group and Maryland Jockey Club, said that because the executive order did not expressly prohibit racing, it is possible to resume under the condition that strict safety protocols are put in place.
“As the commission is aware, on March the 12, the governor issued an executive order to prohibit gatherings of more than 250 people,” said Rifkin. “Live racing, however, was proceeding at that time without fans and we conducted racing from March 13-15. Then another executive order was issued to close the tracks to the public for public wagering. I emphasize that point because at no point has live racing been ordered to be closed.
“As a point of fact, the Maryland Jockey Club closed racing voluntarily and did so after the (March) 15th. During that time, when the Maryland Jockey Club ceased racing, we took that opportunity to work with horsemen, with breeders, and with medical colleagues to develop protocols for a safe and appropriate way to conduct racing should racing be reopened. We’re very pleased with those protocols and we think they incorporate not only best practices, but also reflect that throughout the country, live racing is proceeding at various Stronach Group tracks.”
The Stronach Group’s Santa Anita Park in Southern California was approved to resume racing without spectators May 16. Santa Anita had been closed since the health department ordered a cessation of racing March 27. In contrast, Gulfstream Park has remained open throughout the COVID-19 lockdown albeit subject to revised health and safety protocols.