‘We’ve Always Been Good About Being A Good Neighbor’: Maryland State Fairgrounds Embraces Role As Training Center During Laurel Park Closure

The month of May is typically a busy one for the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Md., which serves as the host of the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale after the Preakness Stakes. However, this May in particular, and the months that follow, figure to be the busiest in recent memory.

The temporary closure of Laurel Park and its backstretch for racing surface repair has scattered its horsemen to tracks and training centers in the surrounding area, and the fairgrounds will absorb some of that horse population as a training center — a role the track doesn’t regularly play on a full-time basis.

Racehorses shipped to the fairgrounds from Laurel on Monday, after a few days’ turnover from when the final 2-year-old sale tenants vacated the premises last week. Training will commence over the five-eighths oval on Tuesday.

It’s a quick turnaround for the property, which hosted the 2-year-old sale horses for about 2 1/2 weeks, between ship-in and prep for the breeze show, the breeze show itself, pre-sale inspections, the two-day auction, and shipping out. However, the recency of the sale also ensured that the property would be ready to host its long-term guests.

Andy Cashman, general manager of the Maryland State Fairgrounds, said the negotiations between the fair management and the Maryland Jockey Club were relatively swift, taking place a couple weeks before the sale.

Cashman said it takes all of six weeks for the fairgrounds’ roughly 20-person staff to get the property ready to receive the 2-year-old sale horses in early May, both in terms of the stabling area and the racetrack, so having that inertia helped make for a more seamless transition for the training horses that will follow.

“I think we’ve always been good about being a good neighbor,” Cashman said. “We’ve always gotten along with everybody to make that work. There’s a lot of infrastructure around here that’s more handy to use for them than some of the other tracks.”

The recency of the auction also proved to be a boon for the fairgrounds in terms of number of horses it could take in. The bricks-and-mortar barns feature 531 stalls and 48 tack rooms, but the property gained an additional 60 temporary stalls under a tent at the back of the barn area to accommodate the Midlantic sale catalog, and that tent will stay in place for the new tenants.

Among the trainers who planned to ship horses to Timonium was Jerry O’Dwyer, who said he’d send 15 to 20 of his Laurel-based horses to the fairgrounds, and the rest would go to Delaware Park.

O’Dwyer acknowledged the headaches caused by leaving Laurel and having to ship from the fairgrounds to run at nearby Pimlico Race Course instead of stabling at the track like some other relocated trainers, but he said the potential benefits outweighed the temporary setbacks. The trainer said it was important for him to keep a string in Maryland to stay involved with the state’s racing circuit, even if he wasn’t on-site at the live meet.

“I’m glad they’re re-doing the track at Laurel,” he said. “I know it’s a pain for everybody to get out, but if we all get out, they can do the job properly, and when we go back, we’ll know we’ve got a safe surface, and hopefully it’ll be good for years to come.”

O’Dwyer said he had run a handful of horses in Timonium during the Maryland State Fair meet in the late summer, and he said the tight-turned bullring was definitely one for specialists when it came to racing. He wasn’t sure if the layout would change the way he trained his horses, as opposed to the 1 1/8-mile oval at Laurel, and the one-mile main tracks at Pimlico and Delaware.

“I don’t know, to be honest,” he said. “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. We breeze our horses nice and smooth. We don’t tend to breeze them real fast, so I think that’ll be good. I like to get nice halves into them, and a nice, solid gallop-out, so I think this track will be very workable for us.

“The track should be in good shape after the sale here, and having been worked over plenty,” he continued. “All the horses seemed to breeze good over it, and I’ve had good reports from people saying this is a good track to train over.”

Moving horses between locations during the upheaval will be one matter, but relocating backstretch employees and exercise riders would be an entirely different challenge. About 35 miles and a drive of 45 minutes to an hour separates Laurel Park and Timonium, making a daily commute difficult to impossible for employees living on-track at Laurel Park.

Cashman said plans called to use a local hotel within walking distance of the track to house stable workers in Timonium, and bussing employees who might not have the means of transportation to relocate to the fairgrounds.

Staff retention wasn’t a major concern for O’Dwyer in regards to the move. He said he’d send a smaller crew to Timonium compared to the team at Delaware Park.

“I have nearly a completely different staff up at Delaware, riders-wise, and I’ve sent a good bit of my grooms up there,” he said. “We have a new bunch of riders and hot walkers up there. I’ve been very fortunate to get a good crew up there, and that’s very beneficial. I have two riders at Laurel and a couple of grooms, and they’ll come over here. There is a couple of my hotwalkers who don’t want to come over because it’s a bit far for them to go, but we’ll make it work.”

The Maryland State Fair hosts its small live meet from Aug. 26 to Sept. 6, and Pimlico’s meet was extended to the end of June to give Laurel Park as much time as possible to get its surface ready for racing.

If it’s needed, Maryland State Fairgrounds chairman of the board Gerry Brewster said the track would be ready to take some pressure off its compatriots, both of which are in varying states of metamorphosis, whether it was to host live racing dates or house training horses. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“We’ve done it before about 25 years ago,” Brewster said. “Pimlico had a redo and brought their races here. Of course, we used to race here 42 days a year. There’s some talk of this year of adding a third week of racing here, in addition to the bookend weekends on either side of the fair. We could possibly have a third weekend.”

The post ‘We’ve Always Been Good About Being A Good Neighbor’: Maryland State Fairgrounds Embraces Role As Training Center During Laurel Park Closure appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

DYFD Winter - 300x90

Comments are closed.