The Maryland Jockey Club will formally ask the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday for permission to extend the Pimlico fall race meeting through Oct. 24 as reconstruction of the Laurel Park racing surfaces has fallen behind schedule.
The race meet, which begins today, is scheduled to run through Oct. 11, but Laurel will not be ready to conduct racing by then, said MJC Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto.
"There are so many other issues [besides the racing surface] -- cabling for the tote board, the paddock and the gap to the track," Raffetto said. "The horsemen strongly approve. When we come back [Oct. 28] it will still be a work in progress for some aspects of the infield. You will not see the real finished product when we get back there."
Remaining at Pimlico an extra two weeks will give horsemen an opportunity to continue racing on the turf, Raffetto said. The MJC doesn't plan to begin laying sod at Laurel until April and the new grass course won't be ready until June, at the earliest.
With their home track closed, Laurel Park trainers have been based at Timonium, Pimlico and the Bowie Training Center. Trainer Hamilton Smith, who has 50 horses at Timonium, will return to Laurel on Sept. 20, when the State Fair track puts out horsemen to make room for young horses earmarked for fall sales.
Laurel is scheduled to be open for training Oct. 3, and Smith remains hopeful. "We'll just jog them around the shed row [in the meantime]," he said. The Pimlico fall meet is highlighted by the 19th running of the Maryland Million on Oct. 9, as well as two valuable Grade III stakes races for 3-year-old fillies, the $150,000 Martha Washington Breeders' Cup on the turf Sept. 25 and the $150,000 Safely Kept Breeders' Cup, a six-furlong dash on Oct. 2.
-- John Scheinman