07/22/2002 11:00PM

For now, business as usual

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Racing will return to Maryland for the first time since the Maryland Jockey Club announced it was taking Magna Entertainment on as a partner, when Laurel Park opens its late-summer meet on Thursday.

The practical effect of the announcement will be nil, officials said, even though Maryland racing officials have spent the last week dissecting the deal and wondering about its impact on the state racing industry. The Maryland Jockey Club owns both Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, which holds the Preakness Stakes.

"It's really too soon to be talking about Magna," said Lou Raffetto, Laurel's chief operating officer. "The deal isn't supposed to close for another 60 or 90 days, so for now, it's business as usual."

Raffetto said that Laurel plans to card three or more turf races each day during the 24-day meet. Horses in the region have been on a steady grass diet for the past month at Colonial Downs in Virginia, where nearly all of the racing is done on the turf course.

First post will be 1:05 p.m. Eastern, with live racing Wednesday through Sunday. Full-card simulcasts will be offered every day of the week.

Only eight stakes have been scheduled, with the Grade 3, $150,000 Martha Washington Breeders' Cup Stakes on July 27 the richest race of the meet. The Martha Washington is for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

The $125,000 Straight Deal Breeders' Cup Stakes, for 3-year-old and up fillies and mares at seven furlongs, will be held on Aug. 10. Last year, Xtra Heat won the Straight Deal by six lengths en route to the 3-year-old filly championship.

Raffetto said that the bathrooms have all been renovated in the grandstand, and that an additional television has been installed at each table in the dining terrace.