The much-awaited opening of Laurel Race Course under the new ownership/management of Frank De Francis is scheduled today, with first post at 12:45 p.m. Opening day features the 12th running of the $34,100 W.P. Burch Stakes, a six-furlong test led by the promising colt, I Am The Game.

The unprecedented winter session will be the first under the direction of De Francis, president and chairman of the board; Bob Manfuso, executive vice president, and Tom Manfuso, vice president. They bought the track from John Schapiro last month; his family had controlled the track for more than 35 years.

Among the improvements at the track are a shoe board, which will indicate the type of shoes being worn by the horses. This is especially useful on rainy days, when mud caulks sometimes help a horse's performance on an off track.

In addition to extensive renovations in the grandstand, clubhouse and Turf Club, Laurel is offering 16 stakes worth $605,000 during its 42-day meeting. Post time is 12:45 throughout the meeting, which ends March 10. There will be Sunday racing, with Wednesdays dark. The premier race of the meeting will be the $100,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares on closing day.

I Am The Game, an impressive winner of his lone start at Aqueduct under Angel Cordero Jr., takes on 10 rivals in the Burch, including the promising Nordance and Jay Bryan.

Trainer King T. Leatherbury, whose wife Linda owns I Am The Game, did not name a jockey for the colt, who cost $255,000 at a Keenland yearling sale.

Nordance, a New York horse from the stable of Hall Of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, will be ridden by Tony Graell, while Jay Bryan again will be ridden by the veteran Phil Grove.

Completing the field are Jack's Goldrunner, Medieval Love, Bold Johu, Shine Diulus, Along Came Jones, Astute Air and the entry of Urigo and Commando Brigade.