Year-round harness racing will begin in Maryland tonight when Rosecroft Raceway opens a 60-night meeting. Post time will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, until Dec. 11.
The 60 nights include 30 each granted Rosecroft and Ocean Downs in legislation passed in Annapolis last winter, giving Rosecroft 145 racing dates annually. Freestate also received 30 more days, giving the Laurel track 115 days annually.
After closing in mid-December, Rosecroft will reopen on an unspecified date in January and race until mid-May, when Freestate will start its entire 115-day meet.
Among the top new drivers who'll race here are Jim Miller, Gerry Bookmyer, Terry Holton, Jimmy Morand and Don Irvine Jr., leading driver at Northfield Park in Ohio.
The feature event of the fall Rosecroft meeting will be the $100,000 Inauguration Pace for 2-year-old pacers, with elimination heats on Oct. 22 and the final on Oct. 29. Of the 45 horses still eligible for this race, the top contender appears to be Billy Haughton's Panorama, who won a race last month in 1:54 3/5 at Indianapolis.
Also scheduled is the $50,000 Belle of the Ball Pace for 2-year-old fillies. Eliminations are scheduled Oct. 23, with the final on Oct. 30.
There will be a change in the judges stand at Rosecroft. John (Tic) Wilcutts will retire after a long career in harness racing, which included being both a driver and most recently a judge. He will be replaced by Howard McCullough, who has many years of racing experience but who will be making his first appearance in a judges stand.