Laurel Race Course, which opens today, is known as the home of the Washington, D.C. International, the world's most famous turf race.
In recent years, Laurel also has been the home of one of the world's worst turf courses.
It was an imcompatible situation. This summer, finally, track management decided to do something about the situation, at a cost of nearly $75,000.
Elwood Fisher was brought in as the project engineer. The frontstretch was completely rebuilt, Sand was added all the way around the mile strip, Swale and trenches were dug on both sides of the grass course. Brick catch basins were constructed along the backstretch. The entire drainage system that helped form "Boreen's Bog" was put into working order.
Miracle of miracles: Laurel's turf course, over which the grand total of two races was run in 1976, and three in 1975, is actually going to be used for racing purposes this fall.
"The first one is Saturday," racing secretary Guy Klank informed, "The Laurel Turf Cup on Monday will be on the turf (a novel experience), and I hope to have one race each day on the grass before the International (Nov. 5) and two races on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays after the International."
Klank's comment made Fisher smile yesterday morning as we walked over his new creation. Fisher lives in Laurel. He is a cautious man, not given to hyperbole. But he is confident that horses and horsemen will approve of what's been done.
"Laurel bought a mixer and a sprayer. We mixed the 50 per cent sand and the 50 per cent good loam, and everything was blended and rolled," Fished declared. "The new part of the course from the quarter-mile pole to the seven-eights pole, was put down in three layers; each layer was frou inches deep, two inches of sand and two inches of topsoil.
"Sod was placed on top, and the entire course was overseeded, sprayed and aerated twice. The grass is Kentucky 31, which is 90 per cent all fescue and 10 per cent Kentucky blue. The rain last week came along at the right time. The grass was cut last Wednesday, for the last time this year. It's ready. Horses will have to run over it, of course, before anyone can pronounced what we've done a success, but I'm encouraged by the early response."
Laurel's turf course looks good and feels even better. It is firm, particularly down the frontstretch. The crown of the track is well-shaped.The contours all the way around make sense. There are no more places for water to be trapped and to collect along the inside rail. A huge trench has been built between the turf strip and the clay of the dirt track along the backside. Water from heavy rains should run off into the swamp behind the backstretch. Even Lake Schapiro, in the infield, is less of an eyesore.
The question now is whether Laurel will continue to spend adequate money to maintain that which Fisher has improved. I hope so. This represents a last-ditch attempt by Laurel to preserve the repution of the course over which the International is presented. Laurel offers Lakeville Miss and L'Alezane in the $150,000 Selmia Saturday on the dirt. The national championship for 2-year-old fillies is at stake. Affirmed and Alydar will meet the following weekend in the Futurity for the 2-year-old colt title. After that the International could be anticlimatic.
Perhaps, given this quality of sport, area racing fans will begin to attend the tracks again. Timonium's attendance and handle were down this summer. The Bowie meeting that ended yesterday was off 11 per cent at the betting windows.
An agreement has been reached for the sale of Bowie by the current controlling Canadian corporation to a group fo Baltimore business, with certain contingencies. The odds are overwhelming that this year represents the last time around for the Canadians in Maryland. The shingle is out at Bowie: "For Sale."