09/07/2016 11:06AM

Laurel: Fall meet showcases turf racing

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Five of six stakes races at Laurel Park on Saturday will be run on turf.

Between Laurel Park, Pimlico, and Timonium, Maryland racing is now on a year-round schedule. While the two biggest days of the season – the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan cards – take place at Pimlico, the session with the most consistent stakes schedule is the Laurel fall meet, which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 31.

Racing will be held Fridays through Sundays, with a live card scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24. Laurel will race Monday, Dec. 26, and be dark Christmas Day.

The Laurel season will offer $3.25 million in stakes purses, not counting Maryland Million Day or the Claiming Crown Preview Day cards.

The first of six major days at the meet will take place Saturday, when six stakes – five on turf – will be run, topped by the $150,000 Lady Baltimore, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares. Eight stakes are scheduled for Sept. 24, including the Commonwealth Cup and Commonwealth Derby, each worth $200,000, and the $150,000 Commonwealth Oaks. Those three races also are on turf.

“We try to emphasize turf racing during this meet,” said Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club. “Last year, we stayed on the grass until mid-December.”

Maryland Million Day, which is expected to feature the traditional seven stakes for Maryland-sired runners, is scheduled for Oct. 22. The $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash tops a card of seven stakes Nov. 19. There also are multiple stakes on Dec. 10 and Dec. 31.

On Tuesday, Sinatra was up at the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md., where the MJC plans to open its next offtrack betting site. Perryville is in the northern part of the state, not far from Fair Hill. Sinatra hopes to have the OTB open before Maryland Million Day.

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At Laurel, construction is under way on the second floor, where a tiered dining room is being built.

“The dining area will be on the glass by the second finish line,” Sinatra said. “There are stairs nearby that lead down to the paddock. We think it will be very popular with our horsemen. The area will also have boxes right on the front glass and a sports bar.”

To keep fans entertained, there will be football parlays that award customers rewards points that can be redeemed for, among other things, betting credits, Daily Racing Forms, or food.

An eight-week handicapping contest, the Players’ Challenge, will be held Sundays from Sept. 11 to Oct. 30. The first seven weeks are qualifying rounds, and the final week is the championship round.

The top four finishers in each qualifier will move on to the championship round. The entry cost is $30, with $20 going to that day’s prize pool and the other $10 going to the championship-round purse.