Craig Fravel, CEO of 1ST Racing, addressed the Maryland Racing Commission during an emergency meeting on April 25 that focused on track safety issues that prompted the suspension of live racing at Laurel Park. (TBM / George Berkheimer)

The Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association have agreed to allow an outside consultant to inspect the track’s surface at Laurel Park and make recommendations for improvements.

It’s the first step toward resumption of live racing at the track since two horses suffered fatalities in competition on April 20. A total of five horses have required euthanasia following injuries sustained at Laurel Park in April.

In response, many of the state’s horsemen refused to enter horses for the track’s April 27 card, prompting the Maryland Racing Commission to suspend live racing and hold an unscheduled emergency meeting on April 25.

According to the agreement, John Passero, a nationally recognized racing surfaces expert, could arrive in Laurel as early as April 26 to make a track assessment.

 “We are doing our very best to make the best conditions possible,” said Craig Fravel, CEO of 1/ST Racing, the MJC’s parent company. “The agreement doesn’t spell out the actual work to be done … (but) we will cooperate fully with the MTHA on making sure whatever recommendations are made are considered and implemented to the extent that we all believe those are the right things to do.”

Some of the horsemen in attendance who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that there are sections of track where the hooves of running horses can penetrate the surface and strike the hard track base, which can result in a broken leg.

“The single most important responsibility we have is to the safety and welfare of our horses,” said Alan Foreman, the MTHA’s general counsel. “We worked very hard in Maryland to have the best protocols in the country, and we did. The fatalities, breakdowns and injuries we incurred over the past few months are a red flag, and we know that from our protocols.”

Lisa Geraghty, a morning pony rider who works at Laurel Park, said the horsemen have 100% faith in Passero, who was a former MJC superintendent.

“When he was here the track was the way it should be, and we need someone like him to evaluate it,” Geraghty said. “The horsemen are tired of losing horses, it’s not only an investment, we have an attachment to the animals we work with every day.”

MRC Chairman Mike Algeo said stakeholders will meet with the Commission as soon as it receives Passero’s report to discuss next steps.

“Racing will not resume here until this Commission says it can resume,” said Algeo. “We cannot afford to get this wrong. Until we can assure folks that we have addressed safety, we’re going to continue in that regard. As soon as we get that report and the Commission is satisfied that we can (resume racing) safely, riders up.”