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Fair Grounds Meet Set to Begin

Fair Grounds will begin its 81-day meet on Thanksgiving Day

Observing its traditional holiday start, Fair Grounds will open its doors Thanksgiving Day, beginning an 81-day meet that is highlighted by Louisiana Derby day, the richest day in Louisiana racing history, which will feature six stakes worth $2.2 million.

Louisiana Derby Day, scheduled for March 8, will feature four grade II events, including the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap, $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap, and $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks.

In addition, two other major days of racing, “Road to the Derby” Kickoff day and Louisiana Derby Preview day, Jan. 12 and Feb. 9, respectively, will offer six stakes events. The $300,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) and $100,000 Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) are the marquee races on those cards.

The season-ending Louisiana Lagniappe Weekend has stretched to the final three days of the meet. It includes nine stakes.

There is one new stakes on the schedule: the $60,000 Allen Lacombe Memorial Handicap for older horses on the turf March 15. In all, Fair Grounds, the third-oldest racetrack in the nation, will offer 64 stakes totaling $7.3 million in purses for its meet, which will run through March 23, 2008.

Average daily purses at the New Orleans racetrack begin at $350,000, but could be increased due to the 245 slot machines that were added in September. A permanent slots facility is under construction, and will eventually hold 700 additional machines.

A host of improvements have been made, including a renovated infield tote board, a newly-designed video tote board in the paddock area, an enhanced paddock surface, and new seats in the 72 clubhouse boxes.

Defending Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss, with nine local training titles to his credit, is back with a full barn, but will face challenges from the usual cast of New Orleans-based trainers and a host of nationally known conditioners who have not raced in New Orleans recently.

Steve Asmussen, who has won or shared six Fair Grounds training titles and most recently guided the career of probable 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, is back again this season, along with local stalwarts Dallas Stewart, Mike Stidham, Neil Howard, Patrick Mouton, and last year’s runner-up, Cody Autrey.

Fair Grounds’ jockey colony will be led by Robby Albarado, who is a candidate for the 2007 Eclipse Award. Albarado, a 34-year-old Louisiana native, will be seeking to become the first jockey in modern Fair Grounds history to win seven local titles.

Opening day is highlighted by the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap. Post time is set for 12:05 p.m. CST. Fair Grounds will race on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule at the outset of the meet, and then add Mondays.