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Meet Overview: 141st Thoroughbred Racing Season
NEW ORLEANS (Monday, November 12, 2012) – Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots will once again renew a beloved New Orleans tradition dating back to 1898 when the 141st Thoroughbred Racing Season opens on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22. First post (the first race of the day) for the 10-race holiday program is 11 a.m. CST.
Fair Grounds is generally accepted to be the third-oldest racetrack in the country, although many accounts, including a heavily researched 2006 feature in The Times-Picayune by Bob Fortus, contend that Fair Grounds could be at least the second-oldest, if not the oldest. The year of the first Fair Grounds meet has long been reported as 1872, but historians have found mentions of Fair Grounds racing in newspapers as early as 1865. There is also primary-source evidence that meets were conducted under other auspices – including the Union Course and Creole Course – at the juncture of Gentilly Boulevard and Bayou Road (roughly the current site of Fair Grounds) as early as 1852.
While live racing at Fair Grounds dates back at least 141 years, the tradition of Thanksgiving Day racing is “only” 114 years old. General admission on Thanksgiving Day is free, as it is for most of the 84-day season, which continues with live racing at least four days per week through March 31. The meet is highlighted by the milestone 100th running of Fair Grounds’ signature race, the $1 million Louisiana Derby, on March 30.
The 10-race card on Opening Day Presented by East Jefferson General Hospital features the 87th running of the Thanksgiving Handicap. The six-furlong sprint for the fastest older horses on the grounds carries a six-figure purse of $100,000 for the first time ever. First post is earlier than usual, at 11 a.m. CST. Grandstand General Admission is free and Clubhouse General Admission is $10.
The traditional Thanksgiving buffet in the Clubhouse Dining Room starts at $65/person for tables of four or six with the most enviable tables going for up to $125/person. New options this year include four exclusive premium tables with the best views in the house – right by the finish line in the Clubhouse’s front row – for $1,300 (President’s Table for four) to $2,500 (Chairman’s Table for six) per table. The VIP tables include Thanksgiving buffet, champagne, bar tab, tax and gratuity, a visit to the announcer’s booth to watch John G. Dooley call a race, a visit to the paddock for a race preview with Katie Mikolay and a trophy presentation.
Arrive early on Opening Day to catch the national anthem performed by Covington OTB Manager Theora Hunt with a colors presentation by the New Orleans Police Department’s mounted patrol.
Thanksgiving Day seating is limited and reservations are required. Reservations can only be made by phone weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at (504) 943-2200.
If family commitments preclude you from making it out on Opening Day, keep in mind that the scene is just as lively the rest of Opening Weekend. The day after Thanksgiving always draws large crowds, especially families. Two $75,000 stakes for 3-year-olds on turf – the Woodchopper Stakes on Friday and the Pago Hop for fillies on Saturday – highlight the racing action. First post Nov. 23- 25 (Friday to Sunday) is 12:40 p.m.
Major Stakes Days
The majority of Fair Grounds stakes races are run on five banner days, two of which are in the early weeks of the season.
Louisiana Champions Day Presented by Acadian Ambulance Serviceon Dec. 8 is comprised of 11 stakes for Louisiana-breds worth $1.1 million. The first 3,000 fans on Louisiana Champions Day will receive a free poster picturing Star Guitar, the five-time Louisiana Champions Day winner and all-time Louisiana-bred earnings leader retired this year. Star Guitar’s owner, Evelyn Benoit, and trainer, Al Stall Jr., will autograph the posters in exchange for a donation to the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association.
Santa Super Saturday Presented by Lee Tractor Co & Kubota Tractors on Dec. 22 includes three open-company stakes topping a super-sized 12-race card. A family holiday celebration will feature live reindeer and Santa Claus.
Later in the meet, all of Fair Grounds’ 10 graded stakes (the most important races in the sport) appear on three days when New Orleans racing takes its turns in the national spotlight. Those dates are spaced five weeks apart so horses can run multiple times in key divisions, including the popular 3-year-old stakes series that consistently produce starters for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Presented by Hotel Monteleone on Jan. 19 features five stakes worth $625,000, including the $200,000 Lecomte (GIII), the first in Fair Grounds’ three-race series for 3-year-old Derby hopefuls. The purses get even heftier on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford withsix stakes worth more than $1 million, including the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (GII) for top 3-year-olds. The season reaches its apex on March 30 for Louisiana Derby Day, the richest afternoon of racing in state history with purses totaling more than $2.5 million. The historic program will feature both the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII), a key final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, and the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), a race that has produced an unprecedented five Kentucky Oaks winners in its past eight runnings, including 2012 heroine Believe You Can.
Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Points Systems
A new points-based qualifying system for the Kentucky Derby in effect for 2013 includes the Louisiana Derby in the highest tier of prep races for the world’s most famous horse race. Under the new rules, 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will earn their way to the Kentucky Derby by earning points in select stakes. The $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII), the signature event at Fair Grounds, is one of only seven races that will offer the maximum 170 points (100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth).
Only 36 stakes overall, including two run overseas, are part of the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system. Of those, only 17 of the most important are part of the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series.”
The first two stakes in Fair Grounds’ three-race graded stakes series for 3-year-olds also carry significant points. The Risen Star (GII), which joins the Louisiana Derby as part of the Championship Series, will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5) and the Lecomte (GIII) will be worth a total of 17 points (10-4-2-1).
A similar point system is being used for 3-year-old fillies aspiring to the $1 million Kentucky Oaks. All three of Fair Grounds’ major route stakes for 3-year-old fillies are included in the new “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.” The Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) will be one of the premier 170-point (100-40-20-10) stakes, the Rachel Alexandra (GIII) will be worth 85 points (50-20-10-5) and the Silverbulletday will offer 17 points (10-4-2-1).
Louisiana Derby Day
The milestone 100th Louisiana Derby Day will be the richest afternoon of racing in Louisiana history, with seven stakes worth $2.51 million, including four Grade II events. To mark the occasion, Fair Grounds is staging a new festival-type experience with entertainment and amenities unprecedented on a live racing day. Details on the Louisiana Derby Day plans will be announced to the public for the first time at a press conference on Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Winner’s Circle.
First post on Louisiana Derby Day is 2 p.m., later than usual in order to accommodate that morning’s 75th Crescent City Classic road race, which ends in nearby City Park. The Louisiana Derby Day racing and festivities will continue into the evening hours for the first time ever.
More Stakes Races
The Fair Grounds stakes schedule is among the richest and most diverse of any winter racing destination, with 56 stakes cumulatively worth $7,435,000, an average of more than $132,000 per race. Ten of the stakes were graded last season – five Grade II and five Grade III. The 2013 gradings will be released in December. To view the complete Fair Grounds stakes schedule visit www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com/Horsemen.
Name the Stakes Race
Fair Grounds is asking fans for help naming a race that is new to the 2012-2013 stakes schedule. The winner of the “Name the Stakes Race” contest will present the trophy to the winning connections after the inaugural running and enjoy lunch for four in the Clubhouse, a replica of the trophy and a $100 win bet.
Fans can enter electronically by e-mail (send your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook (post your suggestion at Facebook.com/FairGroundsRaceCourseandSlots under the Nov. 5 “Name the Stakes Race” status update) or Twitter (tweet your suggestion by mentioning @FairGroundsNOLA) or enter in person in the Clubhouse/Valet Lobby throughout Opening Weekend, Nov. 22-25.
The popularStarlight Racing series with music, food trucks, drink specials and racing under the lights has been expanded to seven dates this season. For one price, guests can choose between two upscale party scenes – a club atmosphere with DJs and Starlight Dancers in the Miller Lite Beer Garden or live music with top cover bands in the Clubhouse. Or choose both!
Fair Grounds recently announced the dates and artists for this season’s Starlight Racing series: Dec. 28 (live music by Category 6 in the Clubhouse, DJ Soul Sister in the trackside tent), Jan. 18 (Chee Weez, DJ San-D), Feb. 1 (Karma, DJ Jubilee), Feb. 22 (Groovy 7, DJ Jive), March 1 (The Mixed Nuts, DVDJ Crush), March 8 (Bucktown All-Stars, DJ Digital) and March 15 (Topcats, DJ Kemistry).
Full-time students enrolled at an accredited institution of higher learning are eligible to win one of six $1,000 scholarships to be given away on two dates in December. The first three scholarships will be raffled off on Louisiana Champions Day, Dec. 8 (register inside the first-floor entrances before the first race), while the other three will be given away at the firstStarlight Racing on Dec. 28 (register inside the first-floor entrances anytime throughout the evening and receive free trackside tent admission if you’re a student 21 or over). The scholarships are sponsored in part by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
Jockeys: Rosie Leads Typically Deep Colony
Two-time defending riding champion Rosie Napravnik, who finished last season with 111 wins, has only added to her growing resume since the end of last meet. In May she became the first female rider to win the prestigious Kentucky Oaks aboard Fair Grounds Oaks heroine Believe You Can. Over the summer she tackled New York and thrived against the deepest jockey colony in America, finishing fourth at the Belmont Park Spring/Summer Meet and eighth at Saratoga. On Nov. 2 she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile aboard Shanghai Bobby, the probable Eclipse Award winner as Champion Juvenile of 2012.
The top seven jockeys in last meet’s standings are expected back this year. Beyond Napravnik, in order of their 2011-2012 finish, the list includes: James Graham, a clear second in the Arlington Park standings this past summer and tied for third at Keeneland in the fall; Miguel Mena, who tied for fifth at the Churchill Downs Spring Meet; Shaun Bridgmohan, second at the Churchill Spring Meet and tied for third with Graham at Keeneland; C.J. McMahon, last meet’s teen apprentice sensation now firmly established on the Louisiana circuit; Richard Eramia, runaway leader at Louisiana Downs over the summer; and Shane Sellers, the Louisiana-born legend with more than 4,300 career wins, including several Grade I events.
New to Fair Grounds this season are two riders with more than 1,000 career wins apiece. David Cohen, a New York regular who pulled off a 33-1 dead-heat win in the Travers (GI) aboard Golden Ticket, is expected to get quality mounts from trainer Larry Jones. Meanwhile, Leandro Goncalves, a Brazilian native who has won the last three jockey titles at Indiana Downs and was fourth at the Churchill Spring Meet, will likely continue his successful partnership with trainer Tom Amoss.
Trainers: Fresh Faces Join Nationally Prominent Fair Grounds Veterans
Nationally prominent regulars like Steve Asmussen, Larry Jones, Bret Calhoun, Tom Amoss, Al Stall Jr., Mike Maker, Mike Stidham, Neil Howard and Steve Margolis will be joined this year by a handful of quality horsemen who are either new to Fair Grounds or are returning after an extended absence.
New Orleansnative Wayne Catalano, who was a 15-year-old high-school dropout when he came to work for Hall of Fame trainerJack Van Berg at Fair Grounds in 1971, will have stalls here for the first time since the 2002-2003 meet. Catalano, currently 50th all-time with 2,339 wins as of Tuesday, won the 1997 Louisiana Derby with Crypto Star, who went on to finish fifth in that year’s Kentucky Derby.
Others new notables includeJoe Woodard, seventh in the nation in 2011 with 204 wins and seventh this year (through Tuesday) with 161;Hugh McMahon, an ex-jockey and former assistant to Scott Lake in the midst of a career year with 128 wins, 14th in the nation, and more than $2.5 million in earnings through Tuesday; Eric Reed, a Kentucky native who is in the Top 100 in the nation by wins with 63 through Tuesday; Garry Simms, winner of the past two runnings of the Debutante (GIII) at Churchill Downs (Blueeyesintherein, 2012, and Flashy Lassie, 2011) while recovering from bone cancer; and Gary Thomas, who has trained throughout the country since 1976 and saddled Rampage to a fourth-place finish in the 1986 Kentucky Derby.
Six of the top 15 trainers in the nation by wins – Asmussen (leading the nation with 238 wins through Wednesday), Woodard (seventh, 162), Calhoun (tied 10th, 133), Maker (12th, 132), McMahon (13th, 131) and Amoss (tied 15th, 123) – will have a winter base at Fair Grounds.
New 50-Cent Minimums on Trifectas, Pick Threes and Super Hi-5
Beginning Thanksgiving Day, Fair Grounds will offer 50-cent minimums on Trifecta, Pick Three and Super Hi-5 wagers to go with the existing 50-cent minimums on the Pick Four and Black Gold 5.
Also starting Opening Day, the Black Gold 5 will be offered on the final five races daily. The Black Gold 5 is a jackpot Pick 5 carryover wager requiring the bettor to hold the lone successful ticket with the winners of five consecutive races. On cards when there is no single-ticket winner, half of the pool will be paid as consolation to tickets with the most correct and half of the pool will go to the carryover.
“Beat the Champs” NHC Qualifier
Three berths to Las Vegas will be on the line when Fair Grounds hosts a National Handicapping Championship qualifier on Dec. 15. In addition, a cash prize pool will be paid out to all players who finish ahead of past NHC champions, and Louisiana natives, Michael Beychok and Judy Wagner.
The “Beat the Champs” NHC Qualifier is a “real money” handicapping contest. Players put up a $300 entry fee plus a $150 live money bankroll. The top three finishers receive automatic berths to the $1.5 million DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, Jan. 25-26, at Treasure Island Las Vegas. If “Beat the Champs” attracts 50 or more entries, every player who finishes ahead of both Beychok and Wagner will receive an equal share of a cash prize pool that could climb as high as $20,000.
Entry form and complete rules for the “Beat the Champs” NHC Qualifier can be accessed online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com/Tournaments.
Free Online Handicapping Contest
Fair Grounds is partnering with Derby Wars, the handicapping tournament website, to present a series of free online handicapping tournaments at FairGroundsRaceCourse.comstarting in January. More details will be announced in coming weeks.
Brisnet.com Early Pick Four
Fans can get free Ultimate Past Performances for each Early Pick Four at Fair Grounds courtesy of Brisnet.com, the Internet’s largest horseracing information service. The Brisnet.com Early Pick Four starts on Race 2 every day. To download your free Early Pick Four past performances, visit FairGroundsRaceCourse.com to access the link or go directly to www.Brisnet.com/cgi-bin/trk_report.cgi?ep4.
Free “No Favorites Allowed” handicapping seminars for bettors of all skill levels will be held Saturdays beginning 40 minutes prior to first post. Moderator Jim Mulvihill and guest handicappers will analyze the day’s card and offer race-by-race selections with an emphasis on horses that offer value. Guest handicappers will be forbidden from picking the morning line favorite in any race.
Post Times and Admission
First post is 12:40 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22, 11 a.m.); Starlight Racing (Dec. 28; Jan. 18; Feb. 1 and 22; March 1, 8 and 15; 5 p.m.), Major Stakes Days (Dec. 8; Jan. 19; Feb. 23; 12:10 p.m.) and Louisiana Derby Day (March 30, 2 p.m.).
Free Grandstand General Admission and $10 Clubhouse General Admission daily, except Starlight Racing (Dec. 28; Jan. 18; Feb. 1 and 22; March 1, 8 and 15; $5 Grandstand/$10 Clubhouse and trackside tent) and Graded Stakes Days (Jan. 19; Feb. 23; March 30; $5 Grandstand/$10 Clubhouse). Louisiana Derby festival details and admission pricing to be announced.
Clubhouse dining and box seat reservations are now being accepted (except for Louisiana Derby Day, which opens Jan. 4). Call (504) 943-2200 (reservation line open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., until Thanksgiving Day; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on live racing days while in season).
For more details about the 141st Thoroughbred Racing Season at Fair Grounds, visit us online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com. A plethora of historical racing information – including stakes histories, past standings, Fair Grounds Hall of Fame bios, Louisiana Derby facts and more – can be found in the Online Media Center at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com/Media.
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About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation’s third-oldest racetrack, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 10 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. The 141st Thoroughbred Racing Season runs Thanksgiving Day, November 22, through March 31, highlighted by the milestone 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby for Kentucky Derby hopefuls on March 30. More information can be found online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com.