Laurel Race Course's fall/winter meeting concluded yesterday, but the track won't be dark for long. If all goes well today, Laurel will reopen Saturday amid historic circumstances -- the first day of intertrack wagering in Maryland.

As Pimlico begins its 75-day meeting today, Laurel will conduct final tests on the system that will allow its patrons to watch and wager on Pimlico races, with their bets incorporated with those at the Baltimore track.

"We will conduct an absolute dry run of the system," said Laurel President Frank De Francis. "We'll do the entire operation as if we were open to the public. We'll actually bet into it, test the TV aspect, and so on. Hopefully, it will show that everything is okay."

De Francis said some components of the system were tested Tuesday -- the day after Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed intertrack wagering into law -- but the wagering aspect was not among them.

Laurel's wagers will be tied in with Pimlico's as tickets are punched, transmitted by high-speed telephone communications. Fans at Laurel will bet and watch races in the Sports Palace, which seats up to 800, as well as in the first-floor clubhouse and, on weekends, the second-floor clubhouse.

Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends -- 30 minutes later than Pimlico's opening -- with post time at 1 p.m. Parking will be free, with a $2 preferred parking area available.

Laurel and Pimlico vice president Tom Manfuso estimated Laurel will draw 1,600 to 2,400 people daily. But many District- and Virginia-based racegoers said turnouts are likely to exceed management's projections.

"I know a lot of guys who are going to come here that just won't go {to Pimlico}," said James Cheeks of Alexandria. "And I'm the same way. But the way things have been going {betting-wise}, I'm not sure I want all that action."

For Laurel's 106-day meeting that ended yesterday, it averaged 8,672 fans and $1,383,787 in wagers. Those figures are 23 and 35 percent higher, respectively, than those of 1984, the year De Francis and Tom and Bob Manfuso purchased the race track.

The victory titles among Laurel's jockeys and trainers were determined weeks ago, but it took the final program of the meeting to decide the circuit's top percentage trainer.

The battle featured men of contrasting styles and philosophies: veteran Charlie Hadry, a soft-spoken trainer who believes in preparing horses with steady but untaxing workouts, and Leo Azpurua, a dapper young trainer who came to Laurel from Florida in the fall and promptly began winning with horses who tended to work swiftly.

Laurel management pays $1,000 to the trainer (and jockey) with the best winning percentage from a minimum of 15 starts. As yesterday's races began, Hadry had won 32.2 percent, Azpurua 31.4 percent. Hadry raced four horses on the card (Azpurua zero), meaning he would clinch the title with one victory, lose it if he were shut out.

His second horse, Fordeb, gave Hadry the title with a wire-to-wire victory in the fifth race. Unofficially, Hadry completed the meeting with 40 winners from 125 starts (32 percent). Azpurua was 11 for 35.

Kent Desormeaux led Laurel's jockeys in victories (183) and percentage (24.4); King Leatherbury topped trainers with 62 triumphs.

As the racing scene shifts to Pimlico today, Hadry will be no less in focus. One of his two unbeaten Triple Crown candidates, Finder's Choice, is the early 2-to-5 favorite to win Pimlico's $40,000-added Hirsch Jacob Stakes.

With his No. 1 rider, Desormeaux, sidelined by a separated collarbone, Hadry has enticed New York-based Jose Santos to ride Finder's Choice. Hadry said Santos would ride undefeated Private Terms in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico March 13 if the jockey has time to make a flight to Miami that evening en route to his native Chile.