The Maryland Jockey Club on Friday suspended horse racing at Laurel Park through the weekend, one day after two horses broke down on the facility’s dirt track.
In a statement Friday evening, the organization said it made the decision in consultation with regulators on the Maryland Racing Commission, and that track and state officials would work “to understand and address any issues of concern raised relating to recent injuries.”
The Maryland Jockey Club also said it is considering updated safety and veterinary protocols similar to those implemented in California after dozens of horses died at Santa Anita Park in 2019.
Those changes “have proven to significantly reduce the number of equine fatalities during racing and training,” the Maryland Jockey Club said.
Earlier in the day, Timothy Keefe, a local trainer and the president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a group representing owners and trainers in the state, called for a weekend suspension of racing and for future races to be moved to Pimlico Race Course starting April 27.
The Pimlico meet is scheduled to start Thursday, May 11 and run for three long weekends.
“We further recommend that training at Laurel Park consist only of joggers and gallopers and horses be shipped to Pimlico for workouts until such time the surface at Laurel Park has been evaluated and deemed safe by our consultant John Passero,” Keefe wrote in a statement posted to the association’s Facebook page.
In an interview with The Banner, Keefe said recent injuries have been a cause for concern among trainers.
“All we know what to do out there is train our horses. We don’t know how to maintain the racetrack,” he said. “We just know as horsemen when we see something different, our athletes are moving a little differently over the racetrack, or we’re seeing a rash of injuries that we’re not used to seeing.”
The Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, brought in Dennis Moore — a West Coast track superintendent who oversaw changes at Santa Anita Park after the spate of fatalities in 2019 — to conduct an analysis of Laurel’s racing surface, Keefe said.
Consultants with the Stronach Group met with horsemen, as well as jockeys and exercise riders, Thursday morning to discuss track conditions. Moore made several suggestions, including adding more clay to the composition of the dirt track, Keefe recalled.
Then, in Race 4 that afternoon, 4-year-old colt Golden Pegasus sustained a “catastrophic injury” leaving the far turn and tossed jockey William Humphrey. The horse was euthanized on the track, according to race notes maintained by Equibase.
In the very next race, Bigmancan, a 6-year-old gelding, pulled up lame on the backstretch and was taken away in an equine ambulance, according to Equibase. He was later euthanized, according to multiple reports.
Earlier this month, the Maryland Jockey Club suspended racing at Laurel out of an “abundance of caution to do a full evaluation of the racing surfaces.” Sources told the website Thoroughbred Daily News that two horses broke down during training hours on the morning of Saturday, April 8. One of the horses was euthanized.
Mike Rogers, acting president of the Maryland Jockey Club, texted horsemen that morning: “I have received feedback from some of the horsemen that they have concerns about the track, and we are going to take the next couple of days to investigate those concerns,” the site reported.
In April 2021, the Maryland Jockey Club moved a portion of its spring meet to Pimlico from Laurel after the organization said the track at Laurel had “not responded sufficiently to wintertime cushion repairs,” according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.
Laurel’s dirt track was resurfaced in the summer, but emergency repairs were made in December and race dates were moved after there were eight fatal breakdowns in October and November, The Sun reported at the time.
Although local horsemen respect Moore’s assessment of the racing surface, Keefe said they would prefer to get an independent analysis from their consultant, Passero, who previously worked as the head groundskeeper at Laurel, Pimlico and the former Bowie Race Track, but is not employed by Stronach.
“We the horsemen would be much more comfortable having an assessment done by someone we’ve had a relationship with in the past,” he said.
The Stronach Group has not yet agreed to that request, according to Keefe.
Lacey Gaudet, another local trainer, said the Maryland Jockey Club has not conducted enough outreach.
Nobody from the organization has asked “how can we help you feel more secure?” she tweeted. “Or maybe ‘we are sincerely sorry for what you’re going through; lets work together.’”