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Fair Grounds Concludes 137th Season
NEW ORLEANS, La. (March 29, 2009) - Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots concluded its 137th season Sunday, a winter that provided a mixture of new and old.
The "new" aspects of this Fair Grounds season included a leadership team overseeing its first winter Thoroughbred season in the Crescent City; the completion of a $35 million slot-machine gaming project, just in time for the start of the meet; a pre-Thanksgiving start to live racing for the first time in three decades, and a feat not achieved on the track in 16 years.
The "old," or perhaps more accurately, more familiar components could be found in the final meet standings, where Fair Grounds regulars Robby Albarado and Steve Asmussen topped their respective divisions.
"I could not be more pleased with the product that Fair Grounds provided this season," said track president Austin Miller. "The staff rose to every challenge that was put before them and showed tremendous energy and a true willingness to provide excellent service. From a sporting perspective, you have to admire the quality of equine and human athleticism; we had some awesome talent. My hat is off to the owners, trainers, jockeys, and staff that made this a very memorable first year for me."
Not only was it Miller's inaugural year at the helm of America's third-oldest racetrack, but he was joined by a new vice president and general manager of racing, Eric Halstrom, and first-year racing secretary Jason Boulet.
Hours after Miller joined city and Churchill Downs Incorporated officials in cutting the ribbon on Fair Grounds' new slots facility Nov. 14, Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's Icetate, trained by Asmussen, captured the first race of the new season. The winning connections would prove to be prophetic.
Asmussen, who also captured the meet's final race Sunday with Whispering Oaks Farm's Southern Region, finished with 91 wins, five more than his total of last season and one shy of the Fair Grounds single-season record for wins set 35 years ago by Jack Van Berg. It was Asmussen's eighth Fair Grounds training title in the last nine years. Bret Calhoun finished a distant second in the trainer standings with 50 wins.
Heiligbrodt Racing took home its second local owner's crown with 31 wins, seven more than last year's leaders, Heflin and Driver Racing.
Albarado moved into unchartered territory with his seventh career Fair Grounds riding title and first in four seasons. Despite missing the first three weeks of the meet, the Lafayette native finished with 91 wins, seven more than 2007-08 leading rider Jamie Theriot.
Albarado snapped a tie with Ronald Ardoin for most local riding titles. He already holds Fair Grounds records for career stakes wins and graded stakes wins.
Vinery Stable and Fox Hill Farms' Friesan Fire became the first horse since 1993 to sweep the Louisiana Derby series, which included wins in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes, Grade III Risen Star Stakes and the Grade II Louisiana Derby, and is among the early favorites for the May 2 Kentucky Derby.
Friesan Fire, who also became the first horse to win three graded stakes in a Fair Grounds season, was an easy choice of media and racing officials as Horse of the Meeting.
Fair Grounds will host its second Quarter Horse meet from Sept. 8-19. Dates for the track's 2009-10 Thoroughbred season will be submitted to the Louisiana State Racing Commission next month.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation's third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, 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 nine off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.