By T. D. Thornton
Pimlico Race Course will shut down for training over a three-day period later this month to repair the base of the main dirt track ahead of the GI Preakness S. meet that runs May 12-30.
Mike Rogers, the president of the racing division for The Stronach Group (TSG), which owns both Pimlico and Laurel Park, alerted the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) to the upcoming closure during Tuesday's monthly commission meeting.
Rogers said the exact dates for the repairs are dependent on weather. Apr.17-20 is the primary time window, with Apr. 25-27 a backup option.
During the Apr. 5 meeting, Rogers described the work as a “normal, routine process.” He later detailed the areas that need attention in a follow-up email to TDN.
“The areas are on the outside before the chute and the outside in the middle of the far turn,” Rogers wrote. “The areas are previous repairs that have been repaired a number of times in the last 5+ years. While the track is shut down we can examine any other previous repairs done and fix accordingly.”
Pimlico's main track has been pressed into increased usage over the past year because of a massive main-track replacement project at Laurel. It's also scheduled to see extra usage this summer, because Pimlico is scheduled to host an August meet for the first time since 2005.
One year ago, Laurel's main track was in such bad shape that TSG ceased racing on it Apr. 11, 2021, to begin an emergency rebuild from the base up. The project was repeatedly delayed and had its scope expanded, and it ended up taking five months before racing could resume instead of the initially projected one month.
When racing resumed Sept. 9, Laurel's main track had no apparent safety issues. But the onset of cold weather revealed problems with seams in the base of the homestretch, then the cushion atop that layer needed substantial reworking to give it more body and depth.
Eight horses died from fractures while racing or training over Laurel's main track between Oct. 3 and Nov. 28, leading to several halts in racing and training that extended into January while expert track surface consultants scrambled to provide a fix.
Rogers reported to the MRC that the surface at Laurel is now in the process of being gradually de-winterized to prepare for warmer weather.
“]Laurel], as we know, we have issues with the cushion,” Rogers told the MRC. “So we're actually in the process now of converting that cushion back to being a summer track. So we're adding some of the finer materials again so that we can water the track and the track can withstand the warmer temperatures that happen in the summertime.”
Rogers continued: “The shoulder season when we go back and forth to the summer track will now be much more manageable than we've seen in the past. We're doing that now and there seems to be positive feedback from the horsemen. We were getting feedback earlier that [the track was] 'dead' or didn't have life to it. And that's kind of consistent with the track having the larger-coarse fibers that we've added [for winter]. And with the temperature warming up, now we're adding that finer [material].”
A check of the base of Laurel's main track will also be scheduled in the near future, Rogers said.
And Laurel's turf course is just 10 days from its first scheduled race on Apr. 15, Rogers reported.
“I know there's been discussions in the past about the drainage of this turf course. But we've undertaken to [install] cameras to check our drainage system. So everything checks so far–the drainage system is absolutely fine. But we do have prior maintenance practices of rolling this turf course quite a bit, so there's compaction that's fairly deep in the turf course. So it's actually a vertical drainage issue [and] we've been aerating it quite a bit. We aerated it last year, and we're continuing to do that. So I'm confident that we're heading in the right direction.
“Is this turf course exactly where it needs to be?” Rogers asked rhetorically. “Not quite yet. We still need to do much more aeration [so that] if we have a big rainstorm, it can drain properly and [we'll be] ready to race in short order. It's a work in progress, but we're definitely much better than we were last year, and I'm confident we'll be in good shape.”
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