19 November 2005

Louisiana Downs Begins Shortened Racing Season

just came across this thought we would share.

An early Thanksgiving at Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs


In a departure from a long-standing tradition—necessitated by Hurricane Katrina’s destructive swath through the Gulf Coast region—Fair Grounds opened it’s 2005-’06 meeting on Saturday about 350 miles across the state from its New Orleans home and about a week early.

While the meet usually begins each year on Thanksgiving day and with a stakes named for the holiday, the meet kicked off with the $50,000 Gentilly Handicap for two-year-old state-breds at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City—but not without most horsemen counting their blessings for the 37-day meet, which is the shortest in the track’s modern history.

The stakes schedule for the meet, which runs through January 22, is about half the number in previous years—missing most notably the Louisiana Derby (G2), an important prep on the road to the Triple Crown—but purses are expected to average approximately $315,000 per day, the largest ever for a meet in Louisiana.

"When the meet started today, it was like the Breeders’ Cup or the Kentucky Derby (G1)," said longtime Fair Grounds trainer Gerald Romero. "We were worried that there wouldn’t be a Fair Grounds meet. It’s very exciting for us, and the horsemen are very grateful to Churchill Downs and Harrah’s Louisiana Downs for working together to make this happen."

"It’s a great thing; we are very thankful," trainer Pat Mouton said of opening day. "Without this meet, we’d be scattered all over the country." Trainer Wes Hawley echoed those sentiments.

"This is the best thing the horsemen could have hoped for," he said.

Jerry Lee’s Desert Wheat zipped from off the pace to win by four lengths as the 3-to-5 favorite in the one-mile Gentilly, carded as the ninth race on the ten-race card. The victory was his second in seven career starts. Trained by Tony Richey and ridden by E. J. Perrodin, the son of Wheaton out of the Royal Academy mare Absoluta (Ire) covered the mile in 1:38.22 over firm turf. Willtosucceed outfinished Waystogeaux by a head for second in the ten-horse field.

Desert Wheat, who was bred by Harry Rosenblum, won his first race in his third start, scoring by a neck in a maiden special weight race at Retama Park on August 11. He entered Saturday’s race off a third-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes on October 28 at Keeneland Race Course.

"That’s the first [stakes race] for Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs," said Lee. "He’s a real nice two-year-old. We’re going to let the horse tell us where we’re going."

Because admission is not charged at the track, there were no attendance figures. On-track, fans wagered $241,518 on the ten-race card. Total handle was $2,595,695, Daily Racing Form reports. Last year’s opening day in New Orleans saw 7,465 wager $473,725. All source handle was $2,906,168.

About midday on Saturday, Sean Alfortish, president of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, noted the importance of the 134th Fair Grounds meet.

"This marks the beginning of resiliency of horse racing in Louisiana," he said. "It’s going to set a mark for the future. This is a classic case of horse racing overcoming adversity as it has in the past, such as economic depression, recession, stock market crashes.

"In Louisiana, horse racing again takes center stage as the number one sport in the state," he said.—Myra Lewyn