Live Racing Returns to Laurel Thursday
LAUREL, MD – Beginning with Preakness (G1) weekend in mid-May at Pimlico Race Course and concluding the day after Christmas at Laurel Park, Maryland racetracks will host 20 of 24 races in the newly configured Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series for 2021.
The MATCH Series, which has proved popular with horsemen since returning to the racing calendar in 2018 following a 16-year hiatus, was shelved in 2020 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that also threatened a 2021 return.
“When we canceled 2020, it was with the intention that we would re-up in 2021. In fact, we had expressions of interest from Virginia with Colonial Downs and Charles Town so we had actually planned the series including Charles Town and Colonial for 2021,” MATCH founder Alan Foreman said.
“But when we got back together in the fall, I think we got the sense that we weren’t coming out of the pandemic very quickly,” he added. “The financial issues that had confronted not only the racetracks but the horsemen’s associations – they’re the main funding sources for the series because they provide the bonus money – it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to do the series as we wanted to do it.”
David Richardson, executive director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, proposed a series entirely conducted at Maryland Jockey Club racetracks and worked with Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of MJC, to put one together. They were later approached by Frank Petromalo of the Virginia HBPA to add four races scheduled during its August meet.
“I wanted to talk to all the match partners because the series really belongs to everyone. This is a regional event and I didn’t want to just go ahead and run a series in Maryland without the approval of all the other MATCH partners,” Foreman said. “We circulated that and they all said, ‘By all means, thanks Maryland for keeping the brand alive.’
“Then Frank Petromalo reached out and said, ‘We’ve got some races here at Colonial that would fit right into the schedule, would you consider letting us partner with you?’ We had to make a few changes but it worked,” he added. “Colonial said they’d be happy to participate, the Maryland Jockey Club said yes, so here we are with a really nice series.”
In all, the MATCH Series will consist of 24 stakes for 3-year-olds and up, male and female, worth $2.75 million in purses, with an additional $282,000 in bonus money available. Six races will be held in each of four divisions, two each going long and short on dirt.
This year’s MATCH Series begins May 14 with the $200,000 Pimlico Special (G3) at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles and $150,000 Allaire du Pont (G3) for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles. Both races serve as supporting stakes on the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) Day program.
On Preakness Day, May 15, the MATCH Series continues with the $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3) and $100,000 Skipat, both sprinting six furlongs, the latter for fillies and mares.
“Obviously, it’s different from previous series but it’s no different than basketball’s Final Four being all conducted in Indianapolis at one venue,” Foreman said. “This is a series that’s open to everyone, not only in the Mid-Atlantic but throughout the country. It’s spaced differently. We’ve got four divisions, all on the dirt, six races all spread out from Preakness weekend until Christmas instead of finishing in late September or early October.
“It really provides opportunities for the horsemen in the region. The Maryland horsemen and Virginia horsemen are putting up the bonus money, so we’ve got a series,” he added. “And, it looks pretty attractive.”
The MATCH Series is expected to return to its regular format in 2022. The 2019 edition included races from Delaware Park, Laurel, Monmouth Park, Parx and Penn National, and 2020 was to have added Colonial Downs and Charles Town. Colonial Downs was a partner from the original 1997-2001 run.
“I said it when we brought the series back a couple years ago, you never know. It was very popular in the late 1990s, early 2000s but it had been 16 years and sometimes when you bring something back it doesn’t always have the same feel,” Foreman said. “That’s not been the case with MATCH.
“I’m just really appreciative of the desire to keep the brand alive until we get out of the pandemic. That was the most important thing. MATCH has really become a brand. It’s very popular, it’s recognized and people ask about it,” he added. “It leaves a pretty good feeling.”
Laurel Park is scheduled to host MATCH Series races June 12, July 4 and 31, Sept. 18, Nov. 23 and 27, and Dec. 26. The Sept. 18 program includes the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3).
“We’ve always had challenges. The first season we brought it back, weather was a factor. The second year we had some challenges where Delaware had a bout with strangles. We’ve always had to work through adversity,” Foreman said. “We were greatly disappointed last year, but it was the right thing to do to suspend the series. This is a luxury, and you don’t need luxuries when people are struggling to make ends meet. It wasn’t that people didn’t want the series, it just wasn’t practical.
“There are similar challenges this year. We have tracks where fans are not allowed, the casinos have been shut down, the funding for racing on a day-to-day basis has been challenged,” he added. “Once again we thought, ‘Let’s let everybody get back on their feet before we bring it back.’ It was purely support for the brand and the generosity of the horsemen in Maryland and Virginia that makes this even possible this year. As far as I’m concerned it’s a bonus for everybody.”
Click here to view the entire MATCH Series schedule.
Live Racing Returns to Laurel Thursday
Laurel kicks off its spring meet of racing Thursday with a nine-race program. First race post is 12:40 p.m.
The card includes a $42,000 allowance event at seven furlongs for fillies and mares. Leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez will send out the 2-1 favorite in Queen of Tomorrow, a 4-year-old Bandbox filly who won under allowance conditions against state-bred or sired horses Feb. 6. Remains Anonymous (5-2) goes out for trainer Michael Trombetta. The daughter of Tapiture comes into the race off three consecutive second-place finishes.
Thursday’s program also includes a competitive $40,000 maiden claiming event for 3-year-olds at six furlongs. Trombetta sends out the 3-1 choice in No Chance Given, third in a maiden special weight event March 19, as well as Mosler’s Touch, second Feb. 12 in a waiver maiden claimer.