By John Piassek
Laurel Park Fall Preview
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
In the racing world, there’s a lot to look forward to in the fall. There’s the Breeders’ Cup, of course. There’s the great meets at Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Kentucky Downs, among other places, not to mention the loads of Breeders’ Cup preps in late September and early October.
One meet that cannot be overlooked, however, is the fall meet at Laurel Park. Starting this Friday, September 9, Laurel will become the centerpiece of the Mid-Atlantic circuit, offering excellent racing for throughout late summer and fall.
It’s no secret that Maryland racing has been in the midst of a renaissance. The recently concluded summer meet at Laurel saw a 20% handle increase from 2015, coming on the heels of a 22% handle jump at the 2016 Pimlico spring meet, and a 35% increase at the Laurel winter meet. That winter meet also saw field sizes increase by an impressive 0.8 horses per race, caused by a total purse increase of more than $5-million.
While the summer racing at Laurel was solid, the fall meet promises to be nothing short of fantastic. Here’s a look at what to look forward to:
Laurel will have racing every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with a first post time of 1:10 PM EDT. The exception will be October 22, Maryland Million day, where the first post will be 12:15 PM EDT.
MAJOR STAKES DAYS:
Laurel will have several stakes-packed Saturdays throughout the meet:
*The first Saturday of the meet, September 10, will feature six stakes races: the Laurel Futurity and the Selima Stakes for two-year-olds, the Laurel Turf Cup for older males on the grass, the Lady Baltimore Stakes for females on the grass, the Shine Again Stakes for dirt sprinters, and the Laurel Dash for sprinters on the lawn.
*September 24 will feature eight—yes, eight–stakes races. There will be three open stakes—the Commonwealth Derby, the Commonwealth Oaks, and the Commonwealth Turf Cup–plus five stakes for Virginia-breds. All eight will be on the grass.
*October 22 is the centerpiece of the meet—Maryland Million day! The finest Maryland-breds around will compete in nine different stakes races. Last year, field size was 9.3 horses per race.
*November 6 will be Claiming Crown preview day. The winner of each Claiming Crown preview race on the Laurel card will receive a guaranteed entry in their division’s Claiming Crown race at Gulfstream Park on December 3. The inaugural Claiming Crown preview day last year saw a whopping 112 horses enter nine races.
*November 19 is DeFrancis Dash day. The sprint will offer the highest purse of any race at the Laurel meet, with $250,000 up for grabs. Six other stakes races will be part of the supporting card.
*December 10 offers four stakes races, three of them for Maryland-breds. Two of those will be for Maryland-bred two-year-olds, with purses of $100,000 each.
*The final day of the meet, December 31, will have five stakes races, four of them worth $100,000.
If you like multi-race bets, look no further than Laurel Park. They’ll be offering two pick 5s and three pick 4s on every card. The early pick 5 consists of the first five races, while the late pick 5 has the last five on each card. Both have an ultra-low 12% takeout.
The pick 4s consist of races 2 through 5, races 4 through 7, and the last four races on each card.
The Rainbow pick 6 will be on the last six races of each program, with a 20% takeout. If there is not just one winning ticket, 60% of the pool is split among all the winning tickets. The remaining 40% is put into a building jackpot carryover.
JOCKEYS TO WATCH:
The summer meet title at Laurel was won by Jevian Toledo. Toledo won at a 21% clip over the summer, winning the jockey title by nine victories. Toledo won last fall’s riding title, too, and finished third at the Pimlico spring meet and fourth at the Laurel winter/spring meet earlier in the year.
Edgar Prado moved his tack back to Maryland for the summer meet at Laurel. While he didn’t have many mounts, he made the most of the ones he rode, with ten winners from thirty-seven horses. Notably, he was 6-for-24 with his grass horses. That 25% win rate is far better than any other rider by a wide margin. Prado was also a very impressive 6-for-16 in his route mounts. Should Prado stay at Laurel for the fall stand, any horse he rides in a grass route must be respected.
Trevor McCarthy won the winter title at Laurel, collecting 67 victories from 358 tries. Last fall, he lost to Toledo by five victories, and will hope to rebound this year.
Nik Juarez finished eighth last fall at Laurel, after missing the first month of the season due to his riding at Monmouth Park. He’s been having an excellent season in New Jersey, sitting at a solid second in the standings with a month to go. When he moves over to Laurel, he’s going to be one to watch. He gives 100% with every mount he rides, and looks ready to establish himself as one of the east coast’s best riders.
Angel Cruz won at a modest 14% at the summer meet, but was lights-out in certain situations. He won eight times from fourteen mounts on favorites, and was 26% in route races.
TRAINERS TO WATCH:
There was no dominant trainer at the summer meet, with no trainer with more than 25 runners hitting at better than 25%. Hamilton Smith and Tim Keefe tied for the training title, with ten winners apiece. Keefe had a higher winning percentage, winning at a 24% rate. His best stats came in maiden claiming races and in routes. In both categories, he was a 31% winner.
Despite a disappointing summer meet where he only won 11% of the time, Kieron Magee must be respected. He won the Pimlico training title with 24% winners, and hit at 25% en route to winning the Laurel winter/spring season. At the Laurel meet earlier in the year, he beat out Claudio Gonzalez and Jamie Ness, who won at 20% and 21%, respectively. All three do most of their damage in claiming races.
TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
Obviously, the most important twitter to follow is Laurel’s own: @LaurelPark.
You can follow me as well, if you don’t do so already, for some reason: @theyreoff. I’ll be providing picks and analysis of Laurel every Saturday, and will be providing thoughts and opinions on Maryland racing on my twitter.
For updates on Maryland-bred horses, check out Maryland TB: @MarylandTB. It also serves as the official twitter account for the Maryland Million.
To get news updates on Laurel, check out Frank Vespe’s Racing Biz (@TheRacingBiz). Frank’s write-ups of each stakes race on the Maryland circuit is an indispensable part of any big stakes day at Laurel. Gary Quill will be doing the handicapping over on theracingbiz.com; you can follow him at: @HorseRacingNut. Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred also covers Laurel extensively, and you can give them a follow at: @MidAtlanticTB.
Maryland racing keeps on getting better, and this meet at Laurel will be no exception. Even though it may not be on most horseplayers’ radar screens, it certainly should be. There’s no better time than now to start playing Laurel, and helping with the revival of the Maryland scene.
— 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.