07/29/2010 12:30PM

Laurel opens summer mini-meet

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Following a 10-week break while action on the circuit shifted south to Colonial Downs in Virginia, live racing returns to Maryland on Saturday when Laurel Park launches its summer mini-meet.

The 11-day stand, featuring three Friday twilight cards that begin at 3:35 p.m. Eastern and four Saturday and Sunday afternoon cards starting at 1:10 p.m., runs through Aug. 22.

In an attempt to appeal to non-racing fans, Laurel will offer free admission, along with drink and food specials, on Fridays. Live music is scheduled for all 11 days.

"We have made it a priority to attract new customers," Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said. "Having such things as live music with happy-hour specials and a novice handicapping tournament are helping us take a step in the right direction."

The meet will feature two $50,000 stakes for Maryland-breds going six furlongs on turf, the Jameela on Aug. 14 and the Mister Diz on Aug. 21.

Chucklas also said fans should "expect to see lots of turf racing."

Four of the nine races on Saturday’s opening-day card are scheduled for turf, including the featured eighth race, a first-level allowance for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. All four turf events drew fields of 12 or 13, along with one to four also-eligibles.

The last three races on Saturday’s card form an all-turf pick three that shapes up as a tough challenge for handicappers. In the first leg, a $5,000 starter allowance at 1 1/16 miles, Royal Rascal looks logical after winning a $10,000 starter allowance in his most recent grass start at Delaware Park two races ago. Bettors also must consider Dancing Tin Man, a 7-year-old who became eligible for this condition when he was claimed out of a win for $5,000 at Colonial Downs by trainer Ferris Allen earlier this month. As recently as May, Dancing Tin Man was competitive running for a $20,000 tag at Delaware.

Pick-three players may well have to spread in race 8, where seven of the 12 runners in the main body of the field show recent turf Beyer Speed Figures in the narrow range of 68 to 73. That group includes the 3-year-olds Reckless Runner, More Than Steady, and Pollards Image – all exiting decent efforts against similar first-level allowance company – and the 4-year-old Powder Mountain, who is 2 for 3 over Laurel’s turf.

Steady Eddie, dropping out of a series of maiden special weight races in which he earned Beyers close to or slightly above the par of 63 for $25,000 maiden claimers, looks like the key horse to use in race 9 at 1 1/16 miles.