Fair Grounds Opens Doors to 'Our New House'

NEW ORLEANS, La. (November 14, 2008) - With new Fair Grounds president Austin Miller saying, "Welcome to our new house," and gold scissors snipping red and green ribbons in unison, the track ushered in its new slot-machine gaming facility and 137th racing season Friday.

"We've been racing here for 137 seasons, and all of a sudden the wait for today seems well worth it," Miller said.

Among those participating in the ceremonial ribbon cutting shortly after 9 a.m. CST were Miller, Churchill Downs Incorporated chairman of the board Carl Pollard, president and CEO Robert Evans, New Orleans City Council members Shelley Midura and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, State Sen. Ed Murray, 2007-08 leading rider Jamie Theriot, and representing New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the city's executive director of arts and entertainment, Ernest Collins.

After operating in a temporary facility next to the grandstand with as many as 250 slot machines for the past 14 months, the new facility opened with 606 reel and video games, with denominations ranging from a penny to $5.

After the ribbon cutting, attention shifted to the opening day of racing. With raindrops falling overhead, New Orleans native and Grammy Award winner Irma Thomas sang the Star-Spangled Banner and even added a little fanfare with the opening line of her timeless favorite, "It's Raining."

Thirty minutes later, they were off and running in the first race of the 87-day meet, and at that point, things reverted to a more familiar state.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won seven Fair Grounds titles and leads the nation in wins and earnings, captured the opener with Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's Icetate. The win was his 538th of the season, moving him one closer to his own national record of 555 wins in a year. Donnie Meche was aboard.

Though late morning and early afternoon rains forced three scheduled turf races to be transferred to the main track, the sun was shining on Gentilly by mid-afternoon.

The first two of Fair Grounds' 63 stakes this season were run Friday. Stormy West won the Blushing K.D. Handicap for fillies and mares, while Sammie Sam captured the Si Cima Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares.Live racing continues at Fair Grounds through March 29. The slots facility is open daily until midnight.

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. Fair Grounds' 137th Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 14, 2008, through March 29, 2009, and its inaugural Quarter Horse meet was conducted from Aug. 20-24, 2008. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.