Laurel, Maryland 20724
Laurel Park is an American thoroughbred racetrack in Laurel, Maryland which opened in 1911. The track is 1 1/8 miles in circumference. Its name was changed to "Laurel Race Course" for several decades until returning to the "Laurel Park" designation in 1994. Repeated renovations have marked the course's nearly 100 years of operation, though Maryland's horse racing industry is flagging. Slot machines are seen as a possible revenue source to keep the course in operation.
Laurel Park Racecourse opened October 2, 1911 under the direction of the Laurel Four County Fair. In 1914, New York businessmen and prominent horsemen, Philip J. Dwyer and James Butler purchased the track and appointed Matt Winn as its promoter and manager. In 1947, the Maryland Jockey Club, which owned Timonium and Pimlico, purchased Laurel Park. After the Maryland General Assembly rejected the idea of replacing Pimlico with Laurel Park, the track was sold to Morris Schapiro who had his son, John D. Schapiro, manage it.
The track was originally founded by James Laurel Jr. From 1947 to 1984, Laurel Park underwent a period of great change. The track was renamed Laurel Race Course and the Washington, D.C. International was introduced at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the track was renovated extensively. In addition, it was awarded summer racing dates. In 1984, the track was sold to Frank J. DeFrancis and several business partners.
Laurel Park Racecourse was updated again with introduction of a 'Sports Palace' facility, renovation of the clubhouse, and exterior improvements. In August 1989, Frank DeFrancis died and his son, Joe DeFrancis, began managing the track. In 1994 the track's name returned to "Laurel Park". Yet more improvements included those to the main entrance, Grandstand interior and backstretch barns.
In 1998 Leucadia National Corporation acquired a significant interest in the Pimlico and Laurel tracks. A new backstretch housing facility followed, along with the opening of four clubhouse areas. Magna Entertainment Corp. bought majority control of the Maryland Jockey Club in 2002 and began another renovation of Laurel Park's track and facility in 2004 with a nearly seven-month closure of Laurel Park's backstretch and racing surfaces for widening, extension and restoration of the dirt surface.
On July 11–12, 1969 the Laurel Pop Festival was held at the racecourse.
Legislation is being debated by the Maryland General Assembly which would likely place slot machines at Laurel Park and possibly generate enough revenue to keep the racecourse, which lost $3.6 million in 2006, in operation. Area residents have mixed views over the introduction of slots, with a greater number opposed to the idea. On November 8, 2007 the Maryland Senate approved a voter referendum on slot machine gambling.