Laurel Park first appeared on the racing scene on October 2, 1911. Its first meeting was held under the direction of the Laurel Four County Fair. Three years later, in 1914, New York City grocery entrepreneur James Butler purchased the track, installing renowned promotions king Col. Matt Winn as the track’s general manager. Winn is recognized as the man who put the Kentucky Derby on the racing map.
Under Butler’s stewardship, Laurel hosted three match races, beginning with Hourless vs. Omar Khayyam at one mile and one-quarter on October 18, 1917. Hourless had won the 1917 Belmont Stakes and Omar Khayyam had accounted for the Kentucky Derby that year. When the two horses met in the Brooklyn Derby earlier that year, Omar Khayyam prevailed by a nose, but in the Laurel match race Hourless rallied to win by a length in a time of 2:02.
The next year, top two-year-olds Billy Kelly and Eternal met in a six-furlong match race at Laurel, vying for a $20,000 pot. Eternal edged Billy Kelly by a head, and winning owner J. W. McClelland donated his purse money to the Red Cross. Then, on October 26, 1923, two-year-olds met again in a match race when Sarazin defeated Happy Thoughts at six furlongs.
In 1947, the Maryland Jockey Club, owners of Pimlico and Timonium at the time, purchased Laurel from the Butler estate with the idea of shifting the Pimlico meeting to Laurel. However, when the plan was not approved by the Maryland Legislature, the Maryland Jockey Club decided to sell the track to Baltimore industrialist Morris Schapiro, who appointed his youngest son John David Schapiro as the track’s new president. Laurel was sold to the Schapiros in 1950.
John D. Schapiro began revitalizing Laurel soon thereafter. He changed the track’s name to Laurel Race Course and introduced the Washington, D.C. International, a race designed to bring together the world’s best at one mile and one-half on the grass. England’s Wilwyn rallied from off the pace to win in the inaugural running of the International in 1952. The race went on to become an important fixture on United States and foreign racing calendars before being placed on hiatus in 1995.
In 1953 Laurel opened a new clubhouse and turf club, and in 1957 the grandstand was remodeled. In an effort to improve conditions for the International, Laurel lengthened its turf course from seven furlongs to one mile in 1959; simultaneously, the main track was extended from one mile to one mile and one-eighth.
Laurel remodeled its clubhouse and grandstand to accommodate winter racing in 1966, enclosing the track’s seating area with 30,000 square feet of half inch thick glass. Conversely, when Laurel was awarded the summer racing dates in 1982, the track installed an air conditioning system in the grandstand and clubhouse. In 1984, the 34-year Schapiro era ended with the sale of the track.
- Client Laurel Park
- Date March 28, 2014
- Tags Thoroughbred