Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr.

Fair Grounds Boosts 2012-13 Stakes Purses

141st season features 56 stakes worth more than $7.4 million.

Fair Grounds has boosted the purses of eight open-company races on its 2012-2013 stakes schedule released June 28, marking the third straight year the average stakes purse has increased at the New Orleans oval. Last season the track raised purses on 19 stakes events.

The 84-day Thoroughbred racing season–running Nov. 22 to March 31, 2013–will feature 56 stakes cumulatively worth $7,435,000, highlighted by the milestone 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II) March 30. The average stakes purse at Fair Grounds will be worth $132,768 and half of the stakes, 28 of 56, will carry six-figure amounts.

The majority of the stakes increases went to five of the track’s 10 graded stakes. The first two legs of Fair Grounds’ graded stakes series for 3-year-olds received significant boosts; the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) will be worth $400,000 (a $100,000 increase) and the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) will be run for $200,000 (a $25,000 bump).

Two important graded events for older horses, the Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) on the main track and the Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIIT) on turf, were raised to $150,000 apiece (from $125,000 each last season). The  Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap (gr. III), which precedes the Fair Grounds Handicap in a three-race graded stakes series for older turf horses, is now worth $125,000 (up from $100,000).

The Thanksgiving Handicap for top sprinters will carry a six-figure purse for the first time. The 87th running of Fair Grounds’ traditional opening day feature will be worth $100,000 (up from $75,000).

Also given $25,000 bumps were the top two main-track events for fillies and mares: the New Orleans Ladies, now at $150,000, and the Tiffany Lass Stakes, now worth $100,000.

"Our emphasis the past three years has been on improving the overall quality of racing at Fair Grounds and these increases are another part of that strategy," said track president Tim Bryant. "Owners and trainers should know that if they bring their very best horses to New Orleans they will have every chance to be rewarded."

Two new stakes that have yet to be named were added to the schedule to bolster options in divisions that have become increasingly competitive in recent seasons. Both are 5 ½-furlong turf sprints for 3-year-olds, to be run in gender-restricted divisions.

Six races from last season’s stakes schedule are not returning – five from Claiming Crown XIII, which was hosted at Fair Grounds for the first time in December, and the Kudzu Juvenile for Alabama-breds, which has been discontinued by the Alabama Thoroughbred Breeders Racing Association.

The Fair Grounds 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 gradings for 2013.

"We are hopeful the esteemed committee will agree that Fair Grounds deserves a grade I race," said Eric Halstrom, vice president and general manger for racing. "This year Believe You Can became the fifth Fair Grounds Oaks winner in the race's last eight runnings to also win the Kentucky Oaks. We're proud to be the winter home for some of the nation's finest horses and believe it's just a matter of time until Fair Grounds is rewarded with a grade I race."

Fair Grounds also announced seven Starlight Racing dates for the Thoroughbred season. The popular social events feature live music, DJs, drink specials, and live racing under the lights on select Friday nights. The 2012-2013 dates are Dec. 28, Jan. 18, Feb. 1 (the weekend of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans), Feb. 22, March 1, March 8, and March 15.