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Introducing New Fair Grounds Racing Analyst Katie Mikolay

Who can turn the world on with her smile? Beginning Thursday, when Fair Grounds Race Course returns to its revered Thanksgiving Day opening, guests of Fair Grounds and fans of the New Orleans oval’s simulcast signal will find out shortly before the first race of its 84-day 2010-2011 Thoroughbred Racing Season.

That’s when the refreshingly enthusiastic Katie Mikolay will take over the reins as in-house television hostess and racing analyst at Fair Grounds.

The Thanksgiving Day nine-race program starts earlier than usual, with the first race slated for 11:05 a.m. That will allow local fans to enjoy the Fair Grounds festivities, headed by the 85th running of the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, and still get home in time to watch their Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints play the Dallas Cowboys as well as enjoy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Earlier, during the races, Ms. Mikolay will provide the Fair Grounds garnish, setting the stage for each race with her insights for those on hand for the Thanksgiving Day social scene at Fair Grounds – an event like no other in New Orleans sports.

Other than a couple of short vacation visits in recent years, Katie is new to New Orleans, but her background in Thoroughbred racing has quickly become credentialed.

Less than 10 years ago, she began her career as a press box receptionist at Arlington Park in time to experience the 2002 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at the Chicago oval, and began her on-air television duties shortly thereafter on the other side of town at Hawthorne Race Course. That led to another opportunity as the television handicapper at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pennsylvania three summers ago, and that just whet her appetite for further advancement.

“I’ve wanted to move forward with my career for a little while now, to see what else was out there, and when the opportunity came to come down to Fair Grounds and then the job was offered, I didn’t even have to think twice about it,” Katie said. “I fell in love with New Orleans the first time I ever visited here. It’s such an historic city.  I’m a history buff and the Fair Grounds has major league racing as well as its own historic past.

“If I wasn’t doing this for a living I’d be a history teacher,” Katie said. “I love reading about the past and trying to translate that to the future, and basically that’s the same thing I try to do in my handicapping. I like finding trends with horses as well as with tracks, and I love to work with percentages and all the statistics I can get my hands on. I like to take in all the information I can get, and I feel I’ve grown tremendously as handicapper over the past few years.

“At a lot of tracks you’re pretty much seeing the same horses all the time, but when I began at Presque Isle, I had to adjust to handicapping horses that were coming from all over the country,” Katie said. “At Fair Grounds, I’m going to see horses coming from all over the country once again, and I feel I’m ready for that now.”

There has also been one other recent addition to Ms. Mikolay’s knowledge of horses. She began dating Hank Gensler, then an assistant trainer for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, about three years ago. Last month the couple was married in Charleston, S.C. (“Because it’s an historic city, too, just like New Orleans.”)

“Hank decided to go out on his own as a trainer and left Steve in December of 2009,” Katie said. “He took a small string to Woodbine last summer and did quite well for a guy just starting out on his own. It’s tough getting started, but he managed to have an on-the-board percentage of almost 50-percent.

“I help him in the mornings so I’ve quickly learned a lot about horses by working for him,” Katie said. “I love being on the backside in the mornings and working with horses, and I love watching morning workouts.

“One of the things fans at Fair Grounds can count on is seeing me out there a lot of mornings watching workouts,” she concluded. “I’m really excited about being here at Fair Grounds and I’m going to make the most I can out of this opportunity.”

Gates Open at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day
Fair Grounds guests are reminded that the Fair Grounds building will be open at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day in advance of the special early first post time of 11:05 a.m.

Guests Welcome to Stay and Watch Saints Game
Guests at Fair Grounds for the Thanksgiving Day program are also invited to stay and watch the New Orleans Saints game at Dallas after the races. There will be $1.50 draft beers and $3 wells throughout the game.

Pick Six Minimum Now $1
The minimum wager for the Pick Six at Fair Grounds has been reduced to $1 for the upcoming 139th Thoroughbred Racing Season.

Tim Rice Book Singing Thursday and Saturday
Author Tim Rice will sign copies of his new book, Broke in a Tangle, at Fair Grounds on Thursday and Saturday, from 1-3 p.m. The book relives many of racing’s greatest moments form the past 100 years while also exploring some lesser known tales. Penned by a Louisiana native, Rice’s book pays particular attention to New Orleans racing and Fair Grounds history.