What’s Going On At Laurel Park Following A String Of Horse Deaths?

Posted on December 2, 2021

A rash of horse deaths at Laurel Park in the past month has forced a change to the upcoming horse racing schedule.

Officials told PlayMaryland that three of the deaths occurred during training hours and that four of the deaths happened while the horses were racing.

According to Thoroughbred Daily News, the most recent death occurred this past Sunday, Nov. 28.

With the spike in fatalities at the race track, officials have canceled all races until further notice.

Why a spike in horse deaths at Laurel Park?

Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, told PlayMaryland the horses died between the half-mile and finish mark of the race track.

Laurel Park opened in 1911 and is located just outside of Laurel, MD, about 30 minutes south of Baltimore. The 1 and 1⁄8 miles track has suffered setbacks this year. They include the shift of some races to nearby Pimlico Race Course due to poor track maintenance conditions, as well as an equine herpesvirus outbreak.

Hopkins cited a few potential reasons for the recent horse deaths at Laurel Park. He said that officials are investigating multiple factors that could have played a role. They include:

  • The surface of the track
  • Horses’ medical history
  • Horses’ individual training programs

In tragic incidents like these, he said it can be hard to pin down one specific cause.

“We are now looking at everything that’s going on at the facility,” he told PlayMaryland. “(We want to see) if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted or repaired to make it safer for the racehorses.”

Previous repairs at Laurel Park

In April of this year, officials closed the main track at Laurel Park to perform repairs.

The multi-million dollar track renovation consisted of replacing the base and cushion of the Laurel Park racing surface completely. The project took four months to complete.

According to Hopkins, these repairs weren’t made because of previous horse deaths at Laurel Park. Instead, they were part of routine maintenance of the facility, he said.

“There were some drainage issues on the race track that they discovered and they had to do some work on it,” he said.

However, Thoroughbred Daily News, which listed all of the horses that recently died, reported that the repairs were clearly needed. The outlet cited “substantial deterioration brought on by years of near-daily usage and piecemeal repairs.”

Now that officials have canceled this weekend’s race, Laurel Park’s future racing schedule remains unknown.

As officials stated in a release on Thursday:

The Maryland Jockey Club today announced the cancellation of racing at Laurel Park through Sunday, December 5, as work continues to complete repairs to the track and to analyze recent equine injuries. While racing is suspended, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Jockey Club are working with industry experts to analyze surface composition and maintenance procedures directed at the safest possible racing surface.

Future of the famed thoroughbred racetrack

This weekend, Laurel Park was scheduled to host the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile stakes. However, with the recent horse deaths at Laurel Park, officials canceled the weekend races.

Hopkins said he’s not sure when races or training will resume at Laurel Park.

However, in the past couple of days, he said, horses could gallop around part of the track to get a bit of exercise.

Moving forward, Hopkins said he isn’t aware of any current discussions to move races and training to another race track.

Photo by AP / Terrance Williams
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Chelsea T. Johnson

Chelsea Johnson is a seasoned journalist with experience working as a reporter for WJAC-TV, 105.7 The Fan WJZ-FM, and FOX Sports Radio in Washington, DC. Her work also includes making an impact in the top newsrooms in the country at WBAL-TV in Baltimore and ESPN in Bristol, CT.

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