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Grade II Louisiana Derby Jumps To $750,000 And Will Be Run At 1 1/8 Miles On March 27

NEW ORLEANS, LA (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009) – Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots has raised the purse of the Grade II Louisiana Derby to $750,000, increased the distance to 1 1/8 miles and moved the 3-year-old fixture to Saturday, March 27 – five weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby.
The significant changes to its signature race and accompanying races, as well as the addition of two new dirt races for fillies and mares, highlight a record $7.24 million, 66-race stakes schedule for the 2009-2010 Fair Grounds meet.

The 85-day Fair Grounds meet will have its earliest start date ever when the historic New Orleans racetrack opens on Friday, Nov. 6, a week earlier than last year and well ahead of the old Thanksgiving Day opener of years past. Closing day for the action-packed 21-week season will be Sunday, March 28.
In recent years, the Louisiana Derby, which produced Kentucky Derby winners Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996), had been a $600,000 race over 1 1/16 miles and was carded seven weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. The momentous switch of the 97th Louisiana Derby to closing weekend, along with moving the Grade II, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks to headline a stakes quartet for fillies and mares on Friday, March 26, has altered both series of races. Three-year-old races such as the Grade III, $100,000 Lecomte Stakes, now one mile and 40 yards, and Grade III Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles will move to Jan. 23 and Feb. 20, respectively.

The Louisiana Derby – one of 10 graded stakes run at the meet – is the centerpiece of six stakes events on the March 27 program. Other showcased affairs include the Grade II, $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles on the Stall-Wilson Turf Course and the Grade II, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

“We’re excited about being the premier racing venue for our nation’s best three-year olds when preparing for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.” said Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager Eric Halstrom.  “Under the leadership of Fair Grounds President Austin Miller, and with the support of the Louisiana HBPA, our racing staff is embarking on a new historic direction for the entire stakes schedule. Most predominantly, we have a broadened race schedule and event-packed week of activities surrounding the Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks. These changes are sure to focus the racing world’s attention on New Orleans throughout our upcoming season.”

Fair Grounds has also added a pair of dirt races for fillies and mares, including a new 1 1/8-mile stakes race positioned on Saturday, Dec. 19 to potentially entice a year-end showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the duo who is widely considered North America’s top two horses in training.
The unnamed Dec. 19 race over conventional dirt in a central location currently features a $100,000 purse, but track officials acknowledge that total prize money could increase if a showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta does materialize.

“Horse racing fans desire to see Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta race against one another, and we’re no different,” Halstrom said. “By positioning this new race six weeks after the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three weeks after Churchill Downs’ Clark and Falls City handicaps, it gives all parties involved something to consider and opens the door for further discussions. Anything further at this point would be premature and circumstances could be different in four months, but this new race gives us an option to dream.”

Zenyatta, Jerry and Ann Moss’ 5-year-old mare who is North America’s reigning Champion Older Female, is now unbeaten in 12 career starts following Sunday’s victory in the Grade I, $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar. Trainer John Shirreffs has Zenyatta targeted for another appearance at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be held at Oak Tree at Santa Anita on Nov. 6-7.

Rachel Alexandra, the flashy 3-year-old filly who used the Fair Grounds Oaks as a springboard to stardom, appears unlikely for this year’s Breeders’ Cup due to co-owner Jess Jackson’s dislike of synthetic racing surfaces. The Steve Asmussen-trainee defeated males for the second time this year on Aug. 2 with a six-length romp in the Grade I, $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. She has won her last eight races by a combined 69 ¾ lengths – a streak that also includes victories in the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes and Mother Goose.

Fair Grounds’ other new event for fillies and mares is also unnamed and the 1 1/16-mile race is scheduled to feature a $200,000 purse on Saturday, March 13, which is three weeks prior to Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap.
Fair Grounds is expected to distribute an average of $350,000 in daily purses. Stall applications for horsemen are due Tuesday, Sept. 15, and the first day of training over the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred racing oval will be Monday, Oct. 5.

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’ 138th Thoroughbred season will run from Nov. 6, 2009, through March 28, 2010, and its second annual Quarter Horse meet will be conducted from Sept. 8 - 19, 2009. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.