by John Piassek
A BREEDERS’ CUP AT LAUREL PARK? DREAM BABY DREAM
If the months of news about Laurel Park’s renovations and upgrades, and the constant promotion of the 2016 fall racing season was buildup, the 2016 Maryland Million was the bass drop. It was the coming-out party for a track that has quickly established itself as the fastest-growing track in the country, and could position itself for bigger and much better things.
The $20-million in renovations to both the grandstand and the stable area have catapulted Laurel towards the forefront of the East Coast racing scene. Refurbished dining areas, lounges, and simulcast centers have gone a long way towards making the on-track experience at Laurel top-notch.
It’s not only about the on-track product though. Thanks to supplements from several Maryland casinos, the purses and product quality has also increased significantly over the past few years, making Laurel an excellent option for off-track players, too. This has been shown through massive handle gains throughout 2016. Handle at the winter-spring meet earlier in the year increased 34.6% from 2015. Summer meet handle grew by 20.5% from last year. Overall handle on Maryland racing in 2015 was up 19.5% from 2014.
The progress racing in the state has made was on full display on Maryland Million day; 21,722 fans showed up, the biggest crowd Laurel’s had since 2010. Handle on the eleven-race program was $4.476 million, an increase of 19.5% from 2015, and the highest handle on the Maryland Million card since 2008.
Of course, Maryland Million day is far from the only big day on the Laurel Park calendar. On September 24, Laurel hosted “Commonwealth Day”, featuring eight stakes races, three of them graded. That card handled more than $4.2 million, an increase of a whopping 72.5% over the same card last year. Opening Saturday, September 10, saw a five-stakes card handle more than $2.6 million, for a jump of 38.15% from 2015. DeFrancis Dash day, on November 19, should result in some more great racing and handle increases.
Such progress has inspired some to ask: could Laurel Park host a Breeders’ Cup in the near future?
On the surface, it looks like a longshot. The Breeders’ Cup hasn’t been held outside of California or Kentucky since 2007, when it was contested at a rain-soaked Monmouth Park. Between 2012 and 2017, the only Cup that will not be held in California is the 2015 renewal, run at Keeneland for the first time. Laurel bid for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, only to lose out to Churchill Downs.
Still, there is optimism within the Maryland Jockey Club that they’ll have a good shot at the Cup in 2020 or 2021. The track has a good location, with proximity to both the Baltimore and Washington, DC, metro areas (plans to build a train stop at Laurel are moving forward, which would linking the two major cities to the track). The world-class turf course is considered one of the best in the country. The large, sweeping dirt track can easily accommodate big fields at any distance.
The recent renovations, while already fantastic, are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more improvements to the grandstand and backstretch are planned for next year. Next year will also see as many as 175 racing dates between Pimlico, Laurel, and Timonium. There is talk of revitalizing the Washington DC International, which was founded in 1953 as the first major grass race in the country.
Over the past few years, the Maryland Jockey Club has created one of the most fan-friendly, fast-growing, and promising circuits in the entire country. The outlook for Maryland racing has never been brighter, and it looks as if they’ll be providing quality racing for years to come. The time may come when Laurel Park is a regular on the Breeders’ Cup rotation. But for now, having one Cup at Laurel would go a long way toward establishing Laurel’s place in the national racing consciousness.
— John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.