The Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash, a yearly event at Laurel Park racetrack, ran on November 14th in Prince George’s County. Hailed as one of the most elite sprints in the country, the DeFrancis Dash features top thoroughbred horses age three and older competing over a distance of six furlongs. Saturday marked the 24th running of the Memorial Dash.
The race was named after the late Frank J. DeFrancis, who had taken over as Chief Executive Officer of Laurel Park racetrack in 1984. As CEO of the racetrack, he was determined to change the magnitude and impact of thoroughbred racing in Maryland. The year following his death in 1989, the first inaugural DeFrancis Dash was created in 1990 and held at the Pimlico Race Course. The following year the “Dash” was moved to Laurel Park, and every year since then, has been a huge success.
Visitors and spectators were treated to numerous pre-race activities, which included the popular Brew & Bourbon Classic. Samplings and tastings of over 50 bourbons and 30 beers were offered to visitors as they explored Laurel Park. A “Wagering-101” tent was also set up to help first-time visitors to the newly-renovated racetrack.
Saturday’s Dash ended with an interesting bit of controversy. Initially, it appeared that “Trouble Kid” and jockey Joshua Navarro had come away with the victory. However, an inquiry was quickly lodged by jockey Daniel Centeno, who rode aboard second place finisher “Gentlemen’s Bet”. The inquiry claimed that Trouble Kid had bumped Gentlemen’s Bet while in a small crowd of pack leaders, and the collision served as an advantage for Trouble Kid to pull ahead of the pack and ultimately finish in first. After a long review process and discussion, the stewards at Laurel Park disqualified Trouble Kid to second place, and awarded Gentlemen’s Bet the victory.
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The horse racing and thoroughbred industry in Maryland has been at odds competing with bordering states like Pennsylvania and Delaware. These states have subsidized their racing industries using some of the money from casino-generated revenues. Ross Peddicord, Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, is very aware of the uphill battle that Maryland horse racing has faced. “There’s no question that Maryland horse racing has had it’s challenges in the last 20 years,” said Peddicord. However, the tide has begun to shift for racing in Maryland. “Maryland now has five operating casinos, with our tracks and breeders getting a share of the revenue. That development has been coupled with a rebounding economy and the staying power of owners and breeders who stayed the course in Maryland during lean times. All of these developments are paving the way for a new Golden Age for Maryland horse racing,” said Peddicord.
Maryland’s most notable racing event is the Preakness Stakes, an annual event that serves as the second leg (or “middle jewel”) of the American Triple Crown. The race takes place once a year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and features the top thoroughbreds across the country. The Preakness Stakes generate the second highest attendance of any equine event in the United States each year, and is only surpassed by the Kentucky Derby (the first race in the Triple Crown). “That’s when the eyes of the sporting world around the globe are centered on Maryland,” Peddicord said.
Thoroughbred racing has been a sport that Maryland has sought to build up and generate excitement around for decades now. “A main thrust of the Maryland Horse Industry Board is to keep fostering that relationship not only with our government officials but also our citizenry. We are constantly developing ways to introduce new folks to horses and to racing,” said Peddicord. Their efforts have introduced projects like developing Horse Discovery Centers spanning 15 counties, creating a horse school curriculum for grade school students, and setting up an exhibit at the Maryland State Fair, drawing thousands of visitors in its first year.
Maryland’s rich racing heritage is one of the many characteristics of the state that contributes to thoroughbred racing’s success. “The most unique quality of Maryland that sets it apart from other states is that it is a horse heritage or horse legacy state, even more so than Kentucky. The first organized horse race took place in Annapolis in 1723. The Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest sporting organization in North America, was founded in 1745,” Peddicord said. “Ancestors of those original colonists are still racing and breeding horses in Maryland today.”
One of Laurel Park’s other signature events is the Jim McKay Maryland Million, which ran last month in October. What’s unique about Maryland Million Day is that one of the main requirements for entrants to be eligible is for the horse to have been conceived inside the state.
Efforts made by Maryland and Laurel Park to keep up in racing did not go unrewarded; at the 30th Running of the Jim McKay Maryland Million, Laurel park generated a 34.9% increase in handle and saw a 5.6% rise in attendance compared to the 2014’s event. An audience of about 19,100 spectators was drawn to Laurel Park for that race.
You can read the full excerpt from Ross Peddicord by clicking here.
For more information about Laurel Park and their racing events, you can visit their website by clicking here.