06/13/2006 11:00PM

Laurel adds eight-day mini-meet


Racing officials and horsemen in Maryland have reached an agreement on a 2007 racing calendar that will include 184 days of live racing at Laurel Park and its sister track, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The agreement also includes the establishment of an eight-day race meet at Laurel this August.

The dates, which were approved on Tuesday afternoon at a Maryland Racing Commission meeting, were hammered out by officials of the Maryland Jockey Club, the owner of Laurel and Pimlico, and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents trainers in the state. Negotiations over the 2007 dates began late in 2005 when the jockey club announced that it intended to slash the tracks' racing dates from 200 a year to 112.

That announcement, which was made first by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a supporter of the jockey club's effort to get slot machines for its tracks, set off angry responses from horsemen's representatives, who accused the jockey club of using the threat as a tool in its lobbying campaign.

A previous agreement with the jockey club guaranteed horsemen 220 live racing days a year, although the actual number typically fell short of that figure in recent years due to negotiations between the two. That agreement expired on Saturday, with negotiations picking up steam over the past several months.

"It took some time, but there was mutual cooperation between the parties," said Wayne Wright, the executive secretary of the horsemen's group, describing the negotiations for the schedule.

The 2007 schedule will kick off at Laurel with a 74-day meet running from Jan. 1 to April 15. Racing will move to Pimlico for 31 live race days between April 19 and June 9. A two-month break will follow before a 10-day meet at Laurel between

Aug. 11 and Aug. 24. Finally, 69 days of live racing will begin at Laurel on Sept. 5, running through Dec. 29.

The eight-day meet at Laurel late this summer will be held from

Aug. 16 to Aug. 25 - one day before racing begins at Timonium as part of the Maryland State Fair - with six weekday cards and two weekend cards. All six weekday cards will have a first post of 3:30 p.m., the first time that Maryland Thoroughbred tracks have scheduled "twilight" racing.

"We felt this is a good opportunity to experiment somewhat and try something new," said Lou Raffetto, the president of the jockey club. "We are hopeful that a new demographic will come out at the end of a work day and enjoy happy hour at the track."

The jockey club also distributed handle figures for the recently concluded 31-day Pimlico meet. According to the figures, average daily all-sources handle on Pimlico's races shot up 38 percent, to $6,112,400, on sizeable gains in both in-state wagering and out-of-state betting. Raffetto credited a decision to race four days a week and pare the number of racing days for increasing field size, leading to more betting.