Happy birthday to Laurel Park

The Friday feature at Brooklyn Backstretch is generally devoted to New York racing’s past, but today we’re looking south, to the great racing state of Maryland as Laurel Park celebrates 100 years of racing.

For five years in the early 90’s, I lived in Maryland, just north of Baltimore, smack dab in the middle of horse country, blissfully unaware of and uninterested in the history available at my doorstep. In those years in which I paid no attention to racing, I never set foot at Pimlico Race Course or Laurel Park, or in the stables on the grounds of the school at which I taught. As the kids say today, “Oops.”

Racing began at Laurel Park on October 2, 1911, as part of the Laurel Four Corners County Fair; the track’s birthday party takes place tomorrow with a Birthday Bash and Fall Fest from 12 to 6 pm.  Part of the celebration is the 82nd running of the Selima Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1926 and is Laurel’s oldest stakes race. Sixteen Selima winners have gone on to be champion two-year-old filly; the winners include Busher, Bed O’Roses, Moccasin, Shuvee, and Mom’s Command.  The first winner of the race was Fair Star.

Program from 1932 Laurel Stakes

Selima herself was imported to Maryland in the 18th century to become a foundation mare at Belair Stud Farm, then the property of Benjamin Tasker, Jr. Belair would later be the center of breeding and racing operations for William Woodward (photos of Belair here).

Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said in a press release, “We want the community to know how much we appreciate them,” and thus drawings will be held for flat screen televisions, iPads, and Baltimore Ravens tickets. The MJC will also donate money to local elementary schools. Brock Bridge Elementary School and Maryland City Elementary School will each receive a $200 donation; an additional $2,400 is up for grabs if jockeys Erick Rodriguez, Sarah Rook, Luis Garcia, Malcolm Franklin, Forest Boyce, Xavier Perez, Horacio Karamanos, and Ryan Fogelsonger finish in the top three in designated races.

The MJC will offer plenty of activities for kids at the celebration, including face painters and an equine village with Pony Club performers, pony riders, and a petting zoo.

In another fan-friendly gesture, fans in attendance on the opening Saturday of the fall meet got a complimentary mug that they can fill with $2 beer every Saturday through December 17.

A list of significant historical racing events at Laurel is featured on the track’s website; short video features on Maryland racing, including the Laurel Futurity, the D.C. International, Xtra Heat, and King Leatherbury, are on YouTube. The videos include historical photos and video footage, including interviews with contemporary and historical racing figures.

Here, Fort Marcy wins the 1967 D.C. International.

I’ve been to Laurel only once, more than three years ago, and I enjoyed every minute of it. You can read about my visit here.

Laurel walking ring/paddock

Belmont will feature two Grade 3 stakes races, the Athenia and the Knickerbocker, and that’s where I’ll be spending my day. But it looks like Laurel’s got a great day on tap…a very happy birthday to them!

Laurel Park program provided by Ron Micetic, for whose generosity I am very grateful.

5 thoughts on “Happy birthday to Laurel Park

  1. Understand totally where you’re coming from on Laurel, as I didn’t get back into Horse Racing as I have been today until the summer of 1982, following Conquistador Cielo’s Belmont Stakes.

    Tomorrow (Saturday 10/15) actually is a very significant anniversary on two fronts that both took place at Belmont:

    One was Slew O’Gold setting what will likely forever be the 1 1/2 Mile stakes record for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (which I remember well because I remember he only got beat three weeks earlier in the Marlboro Cup because of a rare inside closers bias Belmont had then), which can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSNfXN1RpZI (the footage is from the actual CBS telecast).

    The other was right before that JCGC, when arguably the two greatest geldings of the past 50 years, Kelso and Forego were paraded in front of the crowd of 32,000+, many there just to see them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIM2AX_u9HU (includes footage of Kelso winning the 1961 Suburban). That would turn out to the be last time most people would see Kelso, who passed away the next day back in Maryland.

    I was at Belmont that day in 1983 and it was a huge deal to see Kelso and Forego parading that afternoon.

    This coming Monday (10/17) in turn marks the 30th anniversary of John Henry becoming the sports all-time leading money earner in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHexkk8Xhl0 (footage again from the CBS telecast).

    John Henry also raced in the 1983 JCGC, finishing 5th in the only time the three great geldings of their respective decades were on the track together.

  2. I LOVE LAUREL! A heartfelt happy birthday to one of America’s greatest and most historic tracks (and thanks, Teresa, as always, for a wonderful article…complete with photos). 🙂

  3. The D.C. International was one of my favorite races & Fort Marcy was my favorite Rokeby Stable horse when I worked there in the late 60’s.

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