100 Years of Racing at Laurel Park

Racing at Laurel Park debuted on October 2, 1911, making October 2011 the start of the Maryland Jockey Club’s celebration of this great milestone. Below you will find just a few fun facts about Laurel Park and the history that has unfolded there.

When the park opened in 1911, it was part of the Laurel Four Corners Country Fair. The property was spread across Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George’s counties and ideally set in between Baltimore City and Washington, DC.

In 1914, James Butler, a grocery magnate from New York, bought Laurel Park and placed Col. Matt Winn as the general manager.
A match race between Kentucky Derby winner Omar Khayyam and Belmont Stakes winner Hourless took place in 1917 to determine which was the better three-year-old. Hourless won the match race by a length.

Triple Crown winner War Admiral won two races at Laurel Park in October of 1937 during his Horse of the Year season. In addition, Triple Crown winners Sir Barton, Whirlaway, Secretariat and Affirmed all won races at Laurel during their Hall of Fame careers.

Seabiscuit prepped at Laurel Park for his famous match race against War Admiral in 1938. On October 15, 1938, he finished second in the Laurel Stakes, which is a race he won in 1937.

In 1950, the track changed ownership when Baltimore industrialist Morris Schapiro purchased the track. He placed his son John Schapiro as the president of the track. John created the Washington, DC International, which was a turf race for the best grass horses in the world.

Kelso, the only five-time Horse of the Year, won the 1964 Washington, DC International in his fourth attempt. In his three previous tries, Kelso finished second by less than a length.

In 1972, future Triple Crown winner Secretariat won the Laurel Futurity for two-year-olds. Seattle Slew (1977 Triple Crown winner), Affirmed (1978 Triple Crown winner), Spectacular Bid (1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner) and Barbaro (2006 Kentucky Derby winner) all also won this race the year before their big wins.

Sandy Hawley became the first rider in history to earn 500 victories in a single season when he guided Charlie Jr. to victory at Laurel Park on December 15, 1973. Hawley went on to win 515 times in 1973.

The following year, Chris McCarron surpassed Hawley with his 516th win on December 17, 1974 aboard Oh My Love. He ended the season with 546 wins.

In 1984, Frank J. DeFrancis purchased Laurel Park with partners Robert and John Manfuso. They invested millions in improvements to the park and added the first Sports Palace, which was the forerunner to national simulcasting, allowing inter-wagering between Pimlico and Laurel.

October 1, 1986 premiered the Maryland Million, which was devised by broadcaster Jim McKay to promote the Maryland breeding industry. After his death, the race day was renamed the Jim McKay Maryland Million.

Kent Desormeaux broke the single-season win record set by McCarron when Desormeaux rode Gilten to his 547th win on November 20, 1989 at Laurel Park. Desormeaux finished out the year with 598 wins, which is the current standing record.

Edgar Prado became the fourth jockey in history to reach the 500 single-season win mark when he rode Hardball to victory on November 30, 1997. He ended the year with 536 wins.

In 2002, Frank Stronach (Magna Entertainment Corp.) bought a 50% share in the Maryland Jockey Club from Frank DeFrancis’ heirs.
In 2004, Magna began renovating the track, closing the facility from June to January. Improvements included widening the main track and building a new turf track.

In 2007, Mario Pino became the 15th rider in North America to reach 6,000 career wins with his November 7 victory aboard Pass Play.

That same year, Stronach purchased the remaining shares of the Maryland Jockey Club.

©TheEquiery2011