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Purses Boosted for 19 Races on 2011-2012 Stakes Schedule

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots has boosted the purses of 19 open-company races on its 2011-2012 stakes schedule released today. The 84-day 140th Thoroughbred Racing Season – running Nov. 24, 2011 to April 1, 2012 – will feature 60 stakes cumulatively worth $7.54 million, including six Claiming Crown stakes worth $500,000 to be hosted in New Orleans for the first time Dec. 3.

Click here to view a PDF of the complete stakes schedule.

The 99th renewal of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (Grade II) will be run April 1, 2012, the season’s final day. For the first time since 2004, Fair Grounds’ signature race is set for a Sunday, which will be the day between Saturday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Semifinals and Monday night’s Finals at the nearby Louisiana Superdome.

The Louisiana Derby, contested at 1 1/8 miles over Fair Grounds’ storied main track, is among the nation’s premier events for 3-year-olds preparing to make their next start in the world’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Louisiana Derby Week will also feature Starlight Racing under the lights on Friday, March 30, and another major racing day on Saturday, March 31 with four stakes for fillies and mares, anchored by the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII), the richest prep for Churchill’s famed Kentucky Oaks (GI).

“The 2012 Final Four presents a unique opportunity for Fair Grounds to show off world-class racing to tens of thousands of out-of-state visitors in New Orleans that weekend,” said Fair Grounds Vice President & General Manager Eric Halstrom. “If ever there were a time for a sports fan to make their first visit to our storied racetrack this would be it.”

Open Stakes Start at $75k

The changes to Louisiana Derby weekend were just the beginning of several enhancements to the stakes calendar. Every open-company stakes event will now be worth at least $75,000 and four six-figure stakes also received sizable bumps. In addition, seven stakes conditions that have been run with unacceptable field sizes in recent years have been eliminated.

“The adjustments to this stakes schedule have been made to reward the best horses in our strongest divisions,” said Racing Secretary Jason Boulet. “We’re out to attract the highest quality horses we can and the most straightforward way to do that is to offer them more money.”

The races to receive the largest purse hikes from last season are the Lecomte Stakes (GIII), the first in a three-race series of two-turn graded stakes for 3-year-olds ($100,000 to $175,000); the Silverbulletday, the first of three major two-turn stakes for 3-year-old fillies ($100,000 to $125,000); the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII), the second local stop for 3-year-old fillies on the road to the Kentucky Oaks ($150,000 to $200,000); and the Louisiana Handicap for older horses ($60,000 to $100,000).

The 15 open-company stakes that went from $60,000 last season to $75,000 this season are the Thanksgiving Handicap, the Woodchopper Stakes, the Pago Hop Stakes, the Blushing K.D. Handicap, the Tenacious Handicap, the Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap, the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap, the Pan Zareta Stakes, the F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes, the Tiffany Lass Stakes, the Mardi Gras Handicap, the Colonel Power Stakes, the Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap, the Black Gold Stakes and the Happy Ticket Stakes.

Seven Stakes Names Eliminated

Seven stakes that appeared on last season’s schedule have been discontinued because recent editions produced small fields, although a few of the most prominent race names were assigned new conditions. The discontinued stakes names are the Bienville Stakes, the Grindstone Stakes, the John E. Jackson Memorial Stakes, the Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial Stakes, the Letellier Memorial Stakes, the Pelleteri Stakes and the Sugar Bowl Stakes.

Stakes named that have been assigned more appropriate conditions are the Black Gold Stakes (now for 3-year-olds at 7 ½ furlongs on turf), the Happy Ticket Stakes (older females at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf), the Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap (3-year-old fillies at 7 ½ furlongs), the Mardi Gras Stakes (older females at 1 1/16 miles on turf), the Pan Zareta Stakes (older females at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf) and the Tiffany Lass Stakes (older females at 1 1/16 miles).

Ten Graded Stakes

The Fair Grounds stakes schedule is highlighted by 10 stakes that were graded last season – five Grade II and five Grade III. The Grade II events are the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds, the Fair Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, the New Orleans Handicap for older horses and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap for older turf horses.

The Grade III events are the Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses, and both the Fair Grounds Handicap and the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap for older turf horses.

The North American Graded Stakes committee will meet in late 2011 to determine gradings for 2012.

“We are hopeful that Fair Grounds could be on the cusp of its first Grade I race,” said Halstrom. “The Fair Grounds Oaks, which last season was the richest Kentucky Oaks prep, has produced four Kentucky Oaks winners in its past seven runnings.”