09/01/2008 11:00PM

Laurel's new meet about making do

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In the absence of the Grade 1 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash and three other marquee stakes, Laurel Park’s focus will shift to Maryland-breds and big fields of turf runners for its 65-day fall meet that begins Thursday.

Gone are the De Francis Dash – one of just three Grade 1 races in the state – and the Laurel Futurity and Selima for 2-year-olds and the Grade 3 Safely Kept for fillies and mares. All were victims of a Maryland Jockey Club cost-cutting move, which canceled all open stakes for the fall meet.

“Eliminating graded stakes races is deeply troubling but this is the reality of our business in its current state,” said Tom Chuckas, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. “We are hoping the slot machine referendum going before voters Nov. 4 will pass, which will level the playing field between Maryland and the tracks in Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Until then we have the challenge of attempting to compete without significantly reducing racing days.”

The reductions leave 11 statebred stakes, worth $50,000 apiece, plus Maryland Million Day on Oct. 4,. Maryland Million day features 12 races restricted to the offspring of Maryland-based stallions that are worth a total of nearly $1.7 million.

The meet’s 23 stakes are worth $2.23 million. In contrast, Laurel offered 32 stakes worth $3.2 million last fall and 43 added-money events worth $4.7 million two years ago.

Turf racing will be prominent. The first condition book, covering 15 days, contains 112 races for Laurel’s turf course.

Wednesday’s opening-day eight-race card offers three grass races with two fields of 14 and another with 11 horses. Two more turf races are carded for Friday with fields of 12 and 14 runners.

Four of Saturday’s nine races are scheduled for turf, including the meet’s first stakes, the Gin Talking, a 5 1/2-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds.

The nominal opening-day feature is a third-level optional $32,000 claimer for fillies and mares going six furlongs on the main track.

The top contenders are Shananies Song, a Philadelphia Park-based 4-year-old who has not been worse than second in five career starts, and She’s Achance, a wire-to-wire 5 1/2-length winner over slightly easier company two weeks ago.

Live racing will be held Wednesdays through Saturdays with first post at 1:10 p.m. Eastern. The meet continues through Dec. 27.