09/03/2006 11:00PM

Meet should please turf, pick six bettors


Laurel Park intends to make heavy use of its turf course and provide an incentive for small-budget bettors to play the pick six when it launches its fall meet Wednesday.

The revamped and widened grass course, which opened last September, is expected to account for 40 percent of Laurel's live races during the 73-day meet.

To help ensure large fields, Laurel will race only four days a week - Wednesday through Saturday - for most of the meeting. Sunday racing will be added beginning Thanksgiving weekend.

Last fall, when Laurel's handle increased nearly 30 percent over the previous year's meet, the track averaged 11.2 starters for its grass races.

"We had the highest field size of any track in North America last September," said Lou Raffetto, the Maryland Jockey Club's president and chief operating officer. "By utilizing the turf course for 40 percent of our races, hopefully we can meet or exceed last year's numbers."

Budget-conscious horseplayers should appreciate Laurel's decision to offer a 50-cent pick six. It will have a guaranteed pool of $10,000 until the wager is hit.

"The 50-cent pick six is often overlooked early on because the pools can be relatively small," Raffetto said. "We felt by offering a $10,000 guarantee until the wager is hit is a good way to stimulate interest in the bet specifically and in our whole card in general. It is essentially a $40,000 guarantee on a normal $2 pick six."

As usual, the highlights of the fall meet are the Fall Festival of Racing on Nov. 25, which includes the Grade 1 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash and the 21st annual Maryland Million on Oct. 14.

Overall, the meet will feature 43 stakes worth a collective $4.7 million.

The opening-day feature, which goes as race 9, is the $75,000 Mister Diz, a five-furlong turf stakes for older sprinters. It's one of four grass races on the 10-race card.

Second in Command and Bingobear, the one-two finishers from the restricted Troy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 14, and defending champion Yankee Wildcat head a field of 10 older sprinters for the Mister Diz.

Also dangerous is the 8-year-old Procreate, the world record-holder for five furlongs on turf. He ended a nearly 13-month winless drought a month ago, when he wired eight rivals in the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap at Penn National.

Procreate will be reunited with Rosie Napravnik, who rode him for the first time in the Governor's Cup. Napravnik, the leading rider at Laurel's winter meet and Pimlico's spring meet, will be riding her first full meet since losing her apprentice status on Aug. 23.

At a glance:

* RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through Dec. 31. Live racing Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday racing begins Nov. 26.

* POST TIME: 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

* LOCATION: Midway between Baltimore and Washington on Rte. 198 in Laurel (4 miles east of I-95 exit 33 and 2 miles west of Rte. 295 Washinton-Baltimore Parkway).

* ADMISSION: Grandstand and clubhouse, $3.

* PARKING: General, free; preferred, $2; valet, $5; park and lock, $5..

* PHONE: (301) 725-0400; (410) 792-7775.

* INTERNET: www.laurelpark.com