Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Hodges Photography / Lynn Roberts

Fair Grounds to Open with Friday Night Card

Track will open on a Friday night rather than the traditional Thanksgiving day.

For the first time a Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots meeting will begin under the lights when the 142nd Thoroughbred racing season launches Friday, Nov. 22, a Friday, instead of the traditional Thanksgiving opener.

Racing will be held the following Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, continuing a revered New Orleans tradition dating back to 1898. The dates and stakes schedule for the 84-day meet were officially announced July 9.

Thoroughbred season will run Nov. 22 to March 30, 2014, highlighted by the 101st edition of the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 29. The complete stakes schedule, featuring 58 races cumulatively worth $7.51 million, closely mirrors that of last season.

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 December to determine grades for 2014 and Fair Grounds officials believe the Louisiana Derby should be considered for grade I status.

"We continue to hope the esteemed committee will finally recognize that Fair Grounds deserves a grade I race," said Eric Halstrom, general manger of racing. "The Louisiana Derby produced two of the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby (presented by Yum! Brands [gr. I]) and the winner of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Our three-race prep series overall featured five of the top six Kentucky Derby finishers plus the Preakness (Stakes, gr. I) and Belmont winners. A nationally televised, million-dollar race that is now proven as the key final Triple Crown prep has probably earned grade I status."

A complete 2013-14 racing calendar can be found online at www.FGNO.com/horsemen. First post will be 1 p.m. most days. The full stakes schedule also can be accessed at www.FGNO.com/horsemen.   

Two minor stakes restricted to Alabama-breds, the $50,000 Magic City Classic for older horses and the $25,000 Kudzu Juvenile for 2-year-olds, are the only additions to the stakes schedule.

Every race that appeared on last season's schedule is back, most with identical purses and conditions. Two stakes for older females, the $75,000 Mardi Gras Handicap, now a turf sprint; and the $75,000 Happy Ticket Stakes, now on the main track; swapped conditions because of where they would fall on the calendar relative to Fat Tuesday.

The meet's final Louisiana-bred stakes event for older horses has been renamed the Star Guitar Stakes in honor of the five-time Louisiana Champions Day winner and member of the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame. Star Guitar became the all-time Louisiana-bred earnings leader in 2012 by winning the race that will now bear his name, previously known as the Costa Rising Stakes. The Costa Rising name will be applied to another Louisiana-bred stakes race, replacing the Bayou St. John Stakes name.

Fair Grounds also announced four Starlight Racing dates in addition to Opening Night. The popular social events feature live music, DJs, drink specials and live racing under the lights on select Friday nights. The 2013-14 Starlight dates are Nov. 22, Dec. 20, Jan. 17, Feb. 7, and March 14.