TIMONIUM, MD., SEPT. 12 -- The Maryland Racing Commission cleared the way for Laurel and Pimlico race courses to increase the number of live races on their daily programs. The measure is contingent on a legislative endorsement that may be difficult to secure.

With three members absent, the commission voted 6-0 in support of the motion, stipulating that the issue be brought before the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee. In a transmission received this morning by Ken Schertle, the commission's executive director, the AELR Committee stated that two of its members had strong reservations about the proposal, saying it would strip the racing commission of its authority to regulate the tracks.

The decision could have an impact on the Laurel fall meeting that begins Sept. 20. In aligning its racing schedule, Laurel asked to schedule 11 live races Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and 12 live races each of the two days of the International Turf Festival next month. However, the existing statute limits the thoroughbred track to 10 live races. The commission has allowed Laurel and Pimlico to conduct 11 live events as make-up races following cancellations.

In addressing the commission, Martin Jacobs, executive vice president and general counsel of Laurel and Pimlico, said the ceiling should be removed because the tracks traditionally operate only 266 days a year, whereas the law allows up to 296 racing days. Moreover, Jacobs said, because each racing day must conclude by 6:15 p.m., there would be a built-in restriction to the number of races the tracks could run. During winter months, he added, the racing day must conclude earlier because of darkness.

He said the tracks have no intention to create earlier starting times except on such occasions as Thanksgiving, when the program traditionally begins at 10:30 a.m.

"To me, it's much ado about nothing," Jacobs told the commission in response to the AELR Committee's statement. "We're not asking for 13-race days. That's not going to be sought as a general practice." He indicated there could be occasional exceptions.

Maryland's harness tracks, Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs, are not restricted in the number of races they can offer on a program.

Under the racing schedule submitted, Laurel will operate five days a week this fall, closed on Monday and Wednesday. The track again will simulcast the seven Breeders' Cup contests following eight live races Oct. 27.

The commission also approved particulars of the Prince George's Equestrian Center's two-day meet, Oct. 24 and 31, the second day featuring triple betting on all 10 races (field size permitting). Fair Hill was granted a day of racing Sept. 29.

A proposal by commissioner Jack Mosner was tabled pending review by a horsemen's group. His recommendations include splitting entries in overnight races and allowing coupled entries to run in daily-double races.