Freestate Raceway
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Freestate Raceway
Freestate Raceway
OwnerDick Hutchinson
Dick Hutchingson, Jr.
Greta, Joseph Shamy
Frank DeFrancis
TypeHorse racing
Seating typeGrandstand

Freestate Raceway (originally Laurel Raceway from 1948-1979) was a horse racing track in Maryland. It opened in 1948 and closed in 1990.


Harness racing

Laurel: 1947-1979

In September 1947, a meeting was held about bringing a harness racetrack to Maryland, specifically Prince George's County and Howard County.[1]Rosecroft Raceway was chosen for the Prince George's County license, and Freestate was chosen for the Howard County one.[2] Freestate was originally called Laurel Raceway from its opening to 1979. In 1948, Freestate Raceway began its first horse racing season. It was founded by Dick Hutchinson.[3] Freestate was the first track to allow pari-mutuel wagering on a harness race.[4] According to the United States Trotting Association, the racetrack broke several records in its inaugural season, including opening night attendance (12,000), total mutual handle ($3,703,949), and highest attendance (16,000).[5] The owners hosted the Howard County Fair on the grounds in 1948 and 1949 which allowed an exception in post-war rationing of roofing materials that were restricted for agricultural uses only. The fair featured "The Great Zacchinni" human cannonball act.[6] The owners of Freestate decided to increase the purse money, the number of seats, and several other things to greatly improve the racetrack for the 1949 season.[5]

Operations at the track ended in 1975, followed by a fire that destroyed the clubhouse and grandstand in March 1976.[7] Hutchingson's son, Dick Hutchingson, Jr., sold the racetrack to Greta and Joseph Shamy in April 1976.[8] Later, the Vice President of the track Mike Brown was indicted for arson at the clubhouse.[9] The racetrack was estimated to be in $6 million in debt in 1979, and in the same year, Joseph Shamy was arrested in 1979 for "raiding the track's treasury to pay personal debts."[8] Shamy was convicted of racketeering and embezzling $1.2 million from the track which defaulted on a $4.5 million loan from the National Bank of Washington and payments to riders.[10]

Freestate: 1980-1990

The following year Frank DeFrancis purchased the racetrack from National Bank of Washington.[11][12] The first thing DeFrancis did was change the name to Freestate Raceway.[8] Before Freestates first meet under DeFrancis, he did a lot of work to track, including fixing up the grandstand, creating a driver's lounge, and promoting under the slogan "Where Fun Comes in First".[11] After losing money for the first few years, DeFrancis persuaded the Maryland General Assembly to lower the tax on the track's handle.[13] Starting in 1982, Freestate Raceway began to host the Potomac Stakes, Maryland's most successful race. Each time this race happened, the attendance and handle rose dramatically; in 1984, a record $1,094,054 was wagered on the night of that race.[14] In his first six years of operations, Freestate's average attendance increased from 4,477 to 5,453.[15] In 1988, Roosevelt Raceway, which hosted the Messenger Stakes, closed operations, and the race way given to Freestate for the remainder of Freestate's history.[16] In 1989, DeFrancis died, and Freestate was sold to become an industrial park the following year.[17] The park is a 320,000-square-foot shopping center with a grocery store and an adjacent Carmax dealership.[18]


  1. ^ "Harness Race Hearing Set". The Baltimore Sun. September 11, 1947. p. 11.
  2. ^ "Rosecroft Harness Race Season Opens Thursday". The Baltimore Sun. May 22, 1949. p. S6.
  3. ^ Austin, Dale (July 19, 1981). "Freestate Races to the Front in Maryland Trotting". The Baltimore Sun. p. C14.
  4. ^ "Richard Hutchison, 69, Founder, Former Owner of Laurel Raceway". The Washington Post. August 28, 1987. p. B6.
  5. ^ a b "Laurel Raceway - Freestate Raceway". Retrieved 2012.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Kevin Leonard (7 August 2015). "Human cannonball was big attraction at Howard County Fairs held at Laurel Raceway". The Baltimore Sun.
  7. ^ "Fire Destroys Track Buildings". The Washington Post. 2 March 1976.
  8. ^ a b c Trilling, Michael (June 22, 1980). "Freestate Harness Starts Up". The Washington Post. p. E14.
  9. ^ "Md. Jury Indicts Ex-Executive for Racetrack Arson". Washington Post. 1 September 1976.
  10. ^ "Laurel Harness Dates Revoked". The Washington Post. 19 December 1979.
  11. ^ a b Johnson, Ted (May 8, 1980). "Freestate at Laurel Prepares for Opener". Harness Horse. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ Marrapese, Nancy (August 20, 1989). "Frank DeFrancis Dies at 62". Boston Globe. p. 76.
  13. ^ Fowler, Glenn (August 20, 1989). "Frank J. DeFrancis is Dead at 62; Frank J. DeFrancis Is Dead at 62; Lawyer and Horse-Racing Leader". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2012.
  14. ^ Nowakowski, Jack (July 21, 1990). "Rich Potomac Makes Debut at Rosecroft". The Washington Post. p. D9.
  15. ^ "Freestate Raceway (Harness) Laurel, Maryland" (PDF) (Press release). Freestate Raceway. Retrieved 2012.
  16. ^ "Messenger to Md". The Washington Post. October 22, 1988. p. D9.
  17. ^ Rezendes, Michael (September 6, 1989). "Freestate Raceway Is Sold for Planned Industrial Park". The Washington Post. p. D1.
  18. ^ Nelson, Erik (January 12, 1992). "Raceway Rezoned for Neighborhood Shopping Center". The Baltimore Sun. p. 4.

Coordinates: 39°7?44?N 76°49?15?W / 39.12889°N 76.82083°W / 39.12889; -76.82083

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