Laurel Park will host an inaugural Community Day on July 23 to celebrate the backstretch workers who tend to the track’s thoroughbred stars.
The announcement comes days after a fresh round of controversy over the living conditions for those workers, which had previously been decried as “slum-like.”
Festivities will include basketball, pool and volleyball tournaments, a dunk tank with jockey Victor Carrasco and Maryland Jockey Club officials, a barbecue, and prizes and giveaways.
The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is partnering with the Maryland Jockey Club for the event.
“We are thrilled to work with the MTHA for an event that helps recognize the people behind the scenes, whose love for horses and dedication to their well-being is crucial to not only our success here in Maryland, but to the industry nationwide,” MJC president and general manager Sal Sinatra said in a statement.
While tensions between the city and The Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, have eased, and both sides are reportedly out of the courtroom and discussing ways to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, workers’ housing remains a troubling topic.
Last week, The Sun‘s Doug Donovan revealed state regulators gave $1.7 million to Laurel Park in 2016 to build a new three-story building to house the backstretch workers, but the project has since stalled and is almost a year away from completion.
The Maryland Racing Commission has given The Stronach Group $22 million since 2015, Donovan reported. In that time, Stronach has spent a considerable sum making improvements to the grandstand at Laurel Park and building new barns for horses. During that same period, Baltimore officials have argued, Pimlico Race Course has been left to languish.
Conditions at the worker housing facilities first cropped up in the midst of the Maryland General Assembly’s battle over the fate of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. Del. Nick Mosby produced photos of the “deplorable” conditions for backstretch workers at Laurel Park, arguing they showed The Stronach Group prioritizes “horses over humans.”
He said the images of decrepit air conditioners, small living quarters and deteriorating conditions should have put a halt to a bill to authorize $120 million in state bonds to turn Laurel Park into a “super track,” and the eventual home of the Preakness. That bill eventually died in the legislature after Baltimore’s House delegation said they would vote against it.
A representative for Stronach Group said at the time that the buildings are older facilities and the company also offers apartment-style living in a development called Laurel Commons.