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Freestate RacewayFreestate Logo

Freestate Raceway was a five eights mile nighttime harness track in Laurel, about half way between Baltimore and Washington D.C, which opened in 1948 as Laurel Raceway. It was located a few miles north of Laurel Race Course on the other side of Route 1. Freestate ran it's last race in 1989, during it's time it featured a glass enclosed grandstand that seated 2,000, which included a 650 seat dining room and an open air spacious grandstand that seated 5,000 with parking for 4,500 cars. Total track capacity was 15,000 people and accommodations for 650 horses in the stable area.    

Not to be confused with it's neighbor on the other side of route 1, Laurel Race Course, Freestate Raceway started life as Laurel Raceway in 1948. The first track in Maryland to offer pari mutual wagering on harness horses open to an enthusiastic crowd of 12,000. Encouraged by it's early success track owners made numerous upgrades to the facility, including expanding the track from a half mile to five eights of a mile. For years Laurel Raceway was the jewel of standardbred racing in Maryland, most of the finest horses and drivers raced over it's surface. Laurel Raceway hosted many stakes races and was also a host track to the Atlantic Seaboard Circuit. Over time fortunes started to change, the popularity of harness racing peaked by the mid seventies and there was competition from other states. By the late seventies Laurel Raceway was ready to throw in the towel.

Freestate RacewayOpening Night Laurel

 In steps Frank DeFrancis a Washington area business man who purchases the track. In 1980 he renames the track to Freestate Raceway and opens for business with the slogan "where fun comes first". The first couple of years weren't much fun for DeFrancis who was loosing money on his investment, then somehow he persuades the Maryland Legislator to reduce the takeout at harness tracks. In a hoof beat life was good again, so good that the Potomac Stakes was begun. This race though short lived was the most popular in  Maryland harness history. Freestate received another boost in 1988 when the prestigious Messenger Stakes was moved there after Roosevelt Raceway it's original home went out of business. Sadly for both DeFrancis and Freestate he passed away in 1989. Once again Freestate was on the auction block.

Freestate RacewayFreestate First Night

The track was bought by Rosecroft Raceway another Maryland harness track, with the only interest being the transfer of racing dates. The original site of Laurel Raceway from 1948 is just another harness track turned strip mall. There is no indication a track ever existed there. Ironically Rosecroft suffered the same fate as Freestate. In 2010 the track ceased operations, live racing ended in 2009.

I have to admit that I totally missed this one. In the days that I could regularly attend racing in Maryland, I never even knew such a place even existed. Back in those days harness tracks were only for emergencies, when I couldn't get a thoroughbred fix. It's like why didn't I take pictures of these places or even know they existed, life was different back then, no one carried around a reference library with a built in camera in their pocket like today!