Fair Grounds Set to Open on Thanksgiving

Fair Grounds is set to open Thanksgiving Day, marking the return of live racing to the New Orleans track following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The meet is scheduled to run Nov.23-March 25, with 81 days of racing. The main reconstruction of the facility has been completed.

"This is something that will stay with me forever," Fair Grounds president Randall Soth said during a teleconference Nov. 9. "The stable area opened Nov.1, training resumed Nov. 2, and we've had thus far, knock on wood, solid reviews and positive things from all the horsemen that are stabled here."

The racetrack, which has a 1,800 stall capacity, has received around 3,400 stall applications, including from trainers Todd Pletcher and Bobby Frankel.

"This is somewhat of a transition stage right now," Soth said. "We have horsemen arriving from pretty much every racing venue throughout the United States. We are very excited about the upcoming race meet."

One thing that has been delayed because of the hurricane is the opening of an on-track casino, which was scheduled to open this year.

"Our primary objective throughout this year was to get the facility reconstructed, the OTBs reopened, and get the meet started," said Andrew Skehan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs, Inc., which owns Fair Grounds. "We are very close to accomplishing that due to the Herculean effort by all the people down in Louisiana and the support we have received from the regulators and civic officials.

"We are very close to turning our attention to how we get a slots operation up and going. I hope that it is before the end of 2008, but I am not in a position to guarantee anything."