Despite intermitent rain and an important NFL football game featuring the local New Orleans Saints, opening week of racing at Fair Grounds produced increased attendance and handle from the previous year. Fair Grounds opened its 129th season of racing Thursday, with a crowd of 7,158, the third-largest crowd at Fair Grounds since the facility reopned in 1997 after it was destroyed by fire. Those on hand wagered a healthy $552,730, easily the largest on-track handle of the first four days of racing. The 88-day meet runs through March 26, 2001. Krantz said attendance and handle were up this year over 1999, though the exact figures were not readily available.The 2000-2001 Fair Grounds meet marks the widespread introduction of the "Fair Grounds Phone Bet," the track's home wagering account system which was legalized earlier this year. Krantz said the system had approximately 500 account holders at the start of the meet, which "was pretty good, considering we haven't even started promoting it yet."Account holders can also access their accounts on track through 100 self-service machines dedicated solely to the phone bet system. The phone bet system is expected to be complimented by an interactive wagering platform in the very near future. Krantz said he expects an on-line system to be operational by the start of 2001. In all, the Fair Grounds reported total attendance of 16,110 during its opening week and total handle of $11,937,407, of which $1,542,158 was handled on track."I think we had a very strong opening week," said Bryan Krantz, president and general manager of Fair Grounds. "We had rain on Saturday, which washed some races off the turf, and the Saints were playing on Sunday for the division lead. Those factors obviously had some affect on our numbers, but overall it was a good week of racing for us."