Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr.

Fair Grounds Announces 9% Purse Reduction

Grade II New Orleans Handicap and Mervin H. Muniz Memorial are reduced to $400,000.

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots will reduce purses for overnight races by 9%, effective Jan. 31, and trim the value of 12 stakes.

Track officials said the reduction is necessary because of business levels.

“Our gaming and pari-mutuel businesses have been slower than anticipated through the first half of the season, and there has been less revenue generated for purses,” Fair Grounds vice president and general manager Eric Halstrom said in a statement. “The economic downturn across the country, as well as the all-time record rainfall in December in New Orleans, has negatively affected our business, and we were left with no choice but to take this action.

"While we’re disappointed, we’re proud to know that the quality of racing at Fair Grounds has never been better.”

According to unofficial figures, total handle at the Louisiana track from opening day--Nov. 6, 2009--through mid-January was down about $40 million from the same period the previous year. Clearly, an almost three-month-long blackout of the Fair Grounds signal in the Mid-Atlantic region played a role.

The Fair Grounds signal is controlled by TrackNet Media Group, which struck an agreement with the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative effective Jan. 23. It's anticipated handle will now rebound somewhat given the fact Mid-Atlantic wagering outlets account for at least 15% of national handle on Thoroughbred racing based on some industry estimates.

Purses for two grade II races for older horses—the New Orleans Handicap and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap on turf—have been reduced to $400,000 from $500,000. Purses for four stakes were reduced to $100,000 from $125,000: the grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, the grade III Mineshaft Handicap, the Bayou Handicap, and the Duncan F. Kenner Stakes.

Six stakes have gone to $60,000 from $75,000: the Pan Zaretta Stakes, the Colonel Power Stakes, the Bienville Stakes, the Crescent City Oaks, the Crescent City Derby, and the Grindstone Stakes.

Fair Grounds officials said even with the upcoming purse reduction, purse levels are above or equal to those of other southern racetracks with which Fair Grounds competes for horses.

According to The Jockey Club Information Systems, purses have averaged $310,690 a day for the first 47 days of the meet, down from $327,379 for the comparable period during the 2008-09 meet.

Fair Grounds president Austin Miller said that when the meet ends in late March, total purses paid will be about 3.5% less than what was projected to be paid to horsemen.

“We still have plenty to be proud of with our purse structure,” Halstrom said. “The forces that led to this action were largely beyond anyone’s control, and I am confident that the best of our season is still to come. Eight of our 10 graded stakes, including all four of our grade II events, have yet to be run, and our two biggest wagering days—Louisiana Derby Preview Day and Louisiana Derby Day—are in February and March.”

Louisiana Derby Preview Day is Feb. 20 and Louisiana Derby Day is March 27.