Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, which boosted the purse of the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) to $1 million for the 98th running of the race at the New Orleans track March 26, 2011, also announced that it has discontinued five stakes from its 2010-2011 schedule.
The races were cut primarily because those editions had produced small fields, according to a release. The eliminated stakes are the Daily Racing Form Distaff (five starters last season), the Furl Sail Handicap (replaced by the Blushing K.D. Handicap with identical conditions), the Old Hickory Stakes (four starters last season), the Pontalba Stakes (four starters last season), and the Si Cima Stakes (cancelled last season due to insufficient entries).
“The only people that like to see short fields are the connections of the favorites,” said Fair Grounds Racing Secretary Jason Boulet. “With our season starting three weeks later this year, on Thanksgiving Day instead of the first weekend of November, we had an opportunity to make these adjustments while still featuring quality stakes racing every single week. It creates a better product overall when we can shift money to more competitive races.”
The only race to see its purse reduced from last season is the New Orleans Ladies. Initially created to attract Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, the 1 1/16-mile contest for fillies and mares will be worth $100,000 in 2011, down from $200,000 for the inaugural running.
The $250,000 increase of the Louisiana Derby will make it the richest Thoroughbred horse race ever run in New Orleans and the first such race worth seven figures.
The Louisiana Derby’s purse hike is the highlight of Fair Grounds’ 2010-2011 Thoroughbred racing season stakes schedule announced Aug. 10 that features 63 stakes cumulatively worth nearly $6.7 million, an average of more than $106,000 per race.
The Louisiana Derby, contested at 1 1/8 miles over Fair Grounds’ main track, is among the nation’s events for 3-year-olds preparing to make their next start in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
“Our goal is to make the Louisiana Derby the number one Kentucky Derby prep race, and a $1 million purse puts us on par with any of them,” said Fair Grounds vice president and general manager Eric Halstrom in a release. “When you consider the nice monthly progression of our 3-year-old stakes series, comprised of three graded races that can help a horse accrue the earnings they need to make the Kentucky Derby, along with the reputation of our main track as a forgiving surface that gets horses exceptionally fit, there’s no better place to get a promising 3-year-old ready for the Triple Crown.”
Halstrom added: “I’m especially pleased that we were able to substantially boost the Louisiana Derby purse to this historic level without impacting any of the money committed to our hefty overnight purses.”
“As a company it is important to build awareness around the key races and horses that lead to a historic ‘Run for the Roses,’” said Donald Richardson, vice president of Churchill Downs Inc., in a statement. “If the Kentucky Derby is our sport’s Super Bowl, then the Louisiana Derby should be our must-see conference championship game.”
In other Fair Grounds news, the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), a race that has been won by the eventual Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victor in four of its last six runnings, will move back to Louisiana Derby Day, a Saturday, after a one-year stint anchoring Friday’s stakes extravaganza the day before. This year’s Louisiana Derby Day March 26 will feature six open-company stakes worth at least six figures, including four of Fair Grounds’ five grade II events: the Louisiana Derby, the Fair Grounds Oaks, the New Orleans Handicap, and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap.
The Friday of Louisiana Derby Week will still feature a stakes extravaganza, but this year’s program will instead showcase Louisiana-breds. Five races for horses bred in the Bayou State will be run March 25.
The Fair Grounds stakes schedule includes 10 graded stakes--five grade II races and five grade III contests. In addition to the four graded stakes on the final Saturday of the meet, the Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 19 also is a grade II race. The Grade III stakes are the Lecomte for 3-year-olds, the Silverbulletday 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.