09/05/2005 12:00AM

Races aplenty on new turf course


Laurel Park in Maryland will open its 78-day fall meeting on Wednesday, showcasing its new, European-style turf course.

The course, completed this summer after several weather-related delays, has been widened from 75 feet to 142 feet and can accommodate six different configurations. Laurel officials have said that they will schedule at least four turf races a day, continuing a trend in the Mid-Atlantic region toward more grass racing.

For the first four weeks of the meet, three of the turf races will be held as races 6, 7, and 8 each day, in order to tie the races together into an all-turf pick three. The pick-three bet will have a takeout of 14 percent, one of the lowest in the country.

"I think it is going to generate some excitement," said Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel and its sister track, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. "Racing on the grass is more competitive and the fields are certainly fuller, so that wager is going to be very popular for fans around the country."

Laurel will also offer a pick four each day with a takeout of 14 percent.

The turf course has been open for training since Aug. 24, and has received generally positive reviews from horsemen. The installation of the course was somewhat a matter of contention last year, when construction delays prevented Laurel from running for three weeks.

Highlights of the upcoming meet include the Oct. 8 Maryland Million, a day of restricted stakes for Maryland-bred runners that is annually one of the most popular racing day on the Maryland circuit, behind Preakness Day at Pimlico, and the Nov. 19 Frank DeFrancis Dash, a six-furlong Grade 1 stakes that will be supported by four undercard stakes races.

In all, Laurel will card 39 stakes races, including Maryland-bred races, with total purses exceeding $4 million.

The meet's only other graded stakes race, the Grade 3, $150,000 Safely Kept Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, will be held on Oct. 15.

In September, live racing will be held Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday cards will be added to the schedule during the first week of October. First post each live racing day is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.

The opening-day card will feature the $75,000 Twixt Stakes for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies at one mile. There will be no charge for admission on Wednesday.

Live racing will continue at Laurel through the end of the year and for the first 3 1/2 months of 2006.

At a glance: Laurel Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 78 days; Sept. 7-Dec. 31; in September, live racing Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday cards begin in October

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

HIGHLIGHTS: Oct. 8, Maryland Million, 12 races for Maryland-bred runners offering $1.48 million total in purses; Oct. 15, Grade 3 Safely Kept Stakes; Nov. 19, Grade 1 Frank De Francis Dash, Laurel Futurity, Selima Stakes, Anne Arundel Handicap, and Laurel Turf Cup

ADMISSIONS: Grandstand and clubhouse, $3

SEATING: Apron (outdoors), $3; Terrace (indoors), $5

PARKING: General, free; preferred, $2; valet, $5

LOCATION: Route 198, Laurel, Maryland, midway between Washington D.C. and Baltimore

SIMULCASTING: Daily except Tuesday

PHONE: (301) 725-0400

INTERNET: www.laurelpark.com