When Frank DeFrancis refurbished Laurel Race Course in 1984, he proclaimed it the "Dawn of a New Day" for Maryland horse racing. This week, Pimlico officials announced they had spent $1.2 million to improve their track, and their message had a little more bite.

"We are the No. 1 track in Maryland," said Pimlico publicist Chick Lang Jr. "And we intend to remain No. 1."

Chick Lang Sr., Pimlico's general manager, backed his son's statement and will find out if his hope is justified starting Monday, when Pimlico opens. In 1986, Laurel's average daily attendance is 7,703 (up 12.8 percent) and its handle $1,154,144 (up 11.9 percent). For its most recent meeting, which ended Sept. 21, Pimlico averaged 6,751 patrons and $845,215 in wagers.

"I'm not competing with Chick Lang," said DeFrancis. I hope Pimlico will do real well, because we'll benefit from what they do, just as they benefit from the progress we've made. You create a horseplayer not for a particular race track but for the industry."

Wayne Lukas, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer for 1985, is scheduled to ship two horses from New York to Laurel for Sunday's $100,000-added Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares.

Lukas named Angel Cordero Jr. to ride both Gene's Lady, the highweight, and Alabama Nana in the hope the race will be run in divisions.