Two races new to the Fair Grounds stakes schedule this season now have names -- the Battle of New Orleans and the Van Berg Stakes -- thanks to a contest that garnered more than 300 entries from fans and employees.
The Van Berg Stakes, named for both Marion H. Van Berg and Jack Van Berg, is a turf sprint for three-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs to be run January 26. The Battle of New Orleans, named for the final major battle of the War of 1812, is a turf sprint for three-year-old fillies at 5 1/2 furlongs, to be run February 2.
The Battle of New Orleans was submitted by Fair Grounds fan and horse owner Tony Gattelaro of Ontario, Canada. In a concurrent contest open only to Fair Grounds employees, the Van Berg Stakes was suggested by Paige Eckerman, a supervisor at the Kenner OTB Casino and a Fair Grounds team member for more than 25 years.
Gattelaro is unable to attend the inaugural running of the Battle of New Orleans but will receive a replica of the trophy and a $100 win bet on any horse in the field. Eckerman will enjoy lunch for four in the Clubhouse on the day of the inaugural Van Berg Stakes and will present the trophy, in addition to keeping a replica trophy and placing a $100 win wager. She will also get paid time off on the day of the race.
The Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8, 1815, was the last major battle of the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom. The war had officially ended two weeks prior with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, but the news had not yet reached the States. Led by General Andrew Jackson, with help from famed French pirate Jean Lafitte and his men, the Americans won the battle decisively, despite being severely outnumbered (the British suffered 291 fatalities to the Americans' 13).
The victory propelled Jackson to the White House and the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was celebrated as a major national holiday up until the Civil War. One of the earliest New Orleans racetracks -- the Jackson Course, which operated in Chalmette in the 1820s -- was named for General Jackson. Fair Grounds used to run the Old Hickory Stakes in Jackson's honor, from 1972 to 2009.
Both Van Bergs belong to the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame and the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. Marion Van Berg (1896-1971) was the leading owner at Fair Grounds for 11 straight seasons, from 1959-1970, and leading trainer here four times. His son, Jack Van Berg, is the all-time leading trainer at Fair Grounds with an estimated 1,210 wins from 1957-1996 and 10 training titles.
The Van Berg name was mentioned multiple times in the public contest. Ronald Granier of Marrero, Louisiana, suggested the W. Hal Bishop & Marion H. Van Berg Stakes after two of the most dominant horsemen in Fair Grounds history, while both Bill Dowie of Boston and Frank Panucci of Loudonville, New York, offered up the Jack Van Berg Stakes. All three have been invited to assist in the trophy presentation for the inaugural Van Berg Stakes.
A total of 310 entries were received -- 186 in the public contest and 124 from employees. Fans could enter on-track or electronically via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Employees submitted via entry boxes in break rooms at Fair Grounds and its 10 OTBs, as well as in the Human Resources office. Winners were selected by a committee of six Fair Grounds racing officials.