Fair Grounds Race Course concluded its 135th season of racing March 25 with a record purse distribution as well as increases in average daily all-source and on-track wagering.
In the 81-day meet, a total of $359 million, or an average of $4.43 million per day, was wagered on Fair Grounds races from racetracks, simulcast-wagering facilities and advance deposit wagering platforms around the country. That's jump from a total of $343.1 million wagered, or a daily average of $4.18 million, during the 82-day meet in 2004-05, which was the track’s last full season of racing.
(Fair Grounds held an abbreviated 37-day meet in 2005-06 at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., , following Hurricane Katrina. For comparison purposes, the 2004-05 season is used.)
The 2006-07 average daily handle represents a 5.9% increase over the 2004-05 daily average. Averages are used for comparisons because the 2004-05 meet spanned one more racing day.
Total purse distribution was $31.3 million for an average of $387,422 per day, highest ever for a meet in New Orleans. The average was an increase of 44.7% over the 2004-05 average of $267,784. That season’s total purse distribution was $21.9 million. Because of stronger than anticipated business levels at its affiliated off-track betting and video poker operations and the increase in all-sources wagering, Fair Grounds was able to increase overnight purses three times during the 2006-07 meet.
On-track wagering totaled $18.3 million, or $226,377 per day, an increase of 2.2% compared to total on-track wagering of $18.1 million, or an average of $221,481 per day, in the 2004-05 season. Wagers made on track through Fair Grounds’ ADW platform are not included in on-track handle numbers.
Total attendance for the 2006-07 meet was 153,186, a daily average of 1,891. Attendance for the 2004-05 season was 172,550, or an average of 2,104 per day. The 10.1% decrease in average daily attendance is attributed principally to the drop in the New Orleans-area population since Hurricane Katrina.
The average field size of 8.36 starters per race was up 0.4% over the 8.32 average in 2004-05 and was the highest for a meet in New Orleans since 2000-01. The increase came despite a seven-week stretch of wet weather from late December through early February; in that span, the turf course was used on only 12 of 33 racing days.
The highlights of the 2006-07 season were Fair Grounds’ re-opening on Thanksgiving Day, which attracted a facility record crowd of 8,732, and Louisiana Derby Day on March 10, in which a record total of $12.4 million was wagered, including a simulcast-era record of $901,941 in on-track wagering, on an 11-race card that was the richest in Louisiana racing history. It featured five stakes races worth $2.1 million.
“This season was at the same time unique, memorable and rewarding,” said Randall Soth, Fair Grounds president. “Going into the season, it was hard to set expectations, particularly in terms of our on-track business. However, it quickly became clear that racing fans in the New Orleans area and simulcast patrons nationwide would once again embrace our product, and for that we are extremely grateful."
On the track, 17-year-old apprentice Joseph Talamo of suburban Marrero, La., became the first apprentice on record to win a Fair Grounds riding title. Talamo finished with 119 wins, 25 more than six-time Fair Grounds leading rider Robby Albarado. Talamo fell three wins short of the record of wins by an apprentice at a Fair Grounds meet of 122 set 32 years ago by Angelo Trosclair.
New Orleans native Tom Amoss won 52 races to capture his ninth Fair Grounds training title, but his first since 2001. Amoss moved within one of Jack Van Berg’s Fair Grounds record of 10 seasons as leading trainer. Cody Autrey was second with 42 wins.
Autrey’s primary clients, Sandy and Jerry Heflin of Rockwall, Texas, won 30 races to capture their first Fair Grounds owner’s title. For the Heflins, who bought their first horse three years ago, it is their second title; they also were leading owners last summer at Lone Star Park.