The 1981 Maryland harness racing season ended last night but some of the most significant action of the year is just beginning. It could result in Laurel Race Course and Freestate Raceway, located about a mile from each other on Rte. 1, racing at the same time.
The conflict arises because the Freestate harness track normally races during the summer, following the Rosecroft meeting, and the Thoroughbred Racing Board has told Laurel Race Course that it must renovate its plant and alternate the state's 48 summer thoroughbred racing dates with Pimlico and Bowie, the other two major thoroughbred tracks.
Otherwise Laurel Race Course will risk losing its share of the revenue from the summer meeting, which has been run as a joint venture but never at Laurel Race Course, whose grandstand and clubhouse need to be airconditioned.
The chairmen of the two boards, thoroughbred's Bob Banning and harness' Ben Schwartz, however, are in agreement that the two tracks should not run opposite each other.
Asked if the two Laurel tracks would race against each other, Schwartz said: "Postively not; Bob Banning and I have agreed not to race Freestate and Laurel together except for maybe a one-week overlap. . . We have to work together. Harness racing is here to stay and so is thoroughbred racing."
Laurel General Manager Kenneth Schertle confirmed that the track will be air-conditioning its plant and will submit its plan to meet the Thoroughbred Board's judgment in time for the Oct. 28 meeting when the thoroughbred racing dates will be granted. The harness dates are to be distributed Nov. 4.
The dilemma surrounding the racing dates cannot be easily solved to everyone's satisfaction by simply transposing the two harness track's dates.
"I don't see why Freestate shouldn't race against Laurel," said Earle Palmer Brown, Rosecroft president. "We've had to race against Bowie and they are currently racing against Bowie. I don't know why we should give up the dates we have always had."
Rosecroft has raced the early spring meet since the track opened in 1949.
A possible solution is a split Freestate meet in 1982, with Rosecroft racing against Laurel's summer dates with the Freestate dates sandwiched around that period.