07/29/2009 11:00PM

Weekends the focus of mini-meet

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Racing returns to Maryland after a 10-week break on Saturday when Laurel Park opens for an 11-day meet.

After opening weekend, racing will be held on a Friday through Sunday schedule for three consecutive weeks, with closing day on Aug. 23. First post on each of the Friday cards will be 3:35 p.m. Eastern, with first post at 1:10 for the Saturday and Sunday cards.

The brief meet will give local horsemen racing opportunities throughout August without having to ship to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or other summer racing venues that have gained favor with Maryland owners and trainers over the past several years.

Following the meet, racing will be conducted in Maryland at the Timonium State Fair from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, then racing will return to Laurel for a 57-day meet that will include the Maryland Million card on Sept. 26 and the Oct. 24 Frank J. De Francis Dash, a Grade 1 race for sprinters.

The Maryland racing circuit continues to struggle, but many horsemen are hopeful that the establishment of casino gambling in the state will soon begin to provide subsidies that will strengthen the circuit's purses. Voters legalized casino gambling last year, and the law provides that the racing industry will get a significant cut of the revenues, but casinos are not expected to open until next year, at the earliest.

Uncertainty also continues to surround the fate of Laurel and its sister track, Pimlico Race Course, which are both owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. Magna filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and the tracks may have to be sold off as part of the company's reorganization.

Three stakes races are scheduled for the brief August meet, all of which offer $50,000 purses and are restricted to Maryland-bred horses. The first stakes, the Humphrey S. Finney for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the turf on the opening-day card, drew a field of five.

Winthrop House will almost certainly be favored. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Winthrop House ships in from New York off a fourth-place finish in a first-level allowance at Belmont Park on July 10, and he certainly has an edge on class alone. Luis Garcia has the mount.

Winthrop House will face an early challenge from Music City, who will attempt to stretch his speed past a mile for the first time in his eight-race career. His past performances show some pretty obvious distance limitations, which may create a nice setup for Ham and Ernie, ridden by Rosemary Homeister Jr.