Racing was canceled at Laurel yesterday after track superintendent John Passero informed management that the racing surface remained unsatisfactory as a result of last week's rapid thaw. Laurel hasn't raced since jockeys voted after Sunday's fifth race not to ride because of the hazardously sloppy track.

There will be no racing at Laurel today, but Passero said the track should be fit for training this morning and, barring unforeseen weather changes, for racing Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

Laurel's track yesterday contrasted sharply with its previous condition. Extensive puddles that had rendered the track dangerously uneven were gone, and by late afternoon the track appeared more uniform than it had since Friday.

Work crews spent most of Monday mixing 1,000 tons of sand into areas of the track that were exceedingly wet -- with emphasis on the six-furlong pole area near the start of the backstretch -- in an attempt to absorb excess water and produce a consistent, if muddy, texture. Yesterday, tractors graded nearly three inches off the entire track, and dump trucks deposited the mud in great heaps on the track's far southeast side. Passero said that that soil likely would not be restored to the track.

"We had about a four-inch cushion to begin with," said Passero, who spent 18 years caring for tracks in Canada before he arrived in Maryland last spring. "We added 1 to 1 1/2 inches of sand, then removed 2 3/4 inches. So we'll still have a nice cushion out there."

He said the rain and colder temperatures projected for today should not undermine efforts to groom the track into racing shape by Thursday.

"If everything goes according to plan, this weather will make life a lot easier," he said. "If we get a nice, even rain that doesn't produce any flowing on the track, I'll go ahead and harrow the water right into the track and then refloat {compress} the whole track. You may have a 1 1/8-mile track of slop then, but at least it will be uniform.

"If colder weather follows, that would help frost-dry the track, which would allow us to give it a good grading. The problems will come if we get too much rain or the temperature drops too fast."

Passero said last week's rapid rise in temperature started the current predicament. The track, he said, was sloppy when snow caused races to be canceled last Tuesday; subsequent frigid temperatures produced frost below the surface, and unseasonably warm weather brought moisture to the top by Friday afternoon. But it did not rise evenly.

Horses then had problems handling a track that was part good, part deep mud, part slop. Particularly treacherous were the areas connecting the track's two starting chutes to the main oval. (Because Laurel is 1 1/8 miles in circumference, 6 1/2-, 7- and 8-furlong races begin in the chute to avoid starting on or near the clubhouse turn.)

To avert further problems in those areas, Laurel will cease running races from either chute, effective immediately. Races originally written for 6 1/2 and 7 furlongs will be run at 6 furlongs, and mile races at 1 1/16 miles. Races scheduled for 1 1/8 miles will not be altered.

"If I could have let John concentrate on the oval without having to worry about the chutes," track president Frank De Francis said Monday, "that might have helped matters considerably."

Yesterday's cancellation was the eighth at Laurel in 12 weeks, but that is not extraordinary.

Laurel will make up some of the dates by running the next four Mondays this month, and De Francis said he has sought Maryland Racing Commission approval to make up Sunday's six canceled races by adding a 12th race on Saturday and Sunday, as well as Feb. 13, 14, 15 and 20.