Fair Grounds Race Course reopens for training Thursday for the first time since the New Orleans track was devastated during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath 14 months ago.The restored Fair Grounds racing surface is also nearing its reopening to competition on Thanksgiving Day, just three weeks away.The main track took on some water from Katrina, but the main concern for new track superintendent Roy Favret was not only to get the track back to its proper consistency, but to remove debris that Katrina's winds deposited on the racing surface.The turf course presented a different set of challenges. Because the flooding came from the salt water of Lake Pontchartrain, the salt content had to be removed from the soil. Fair Grounds crews deposited 90,000 pounds of granulated gypsum over the turf and infield in the spring to neutralize the salt content, a project that was completed in time for Fair Grounds to host the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.More than 200 horses have already arrived on the backstretch this week. The backstretch population, both equine and human, is living in a totally restored area, which includes the repair or replacement of 28 roofs, new doors on barns and tack rooms, fresh dirt in the barns, new plywood lining in each stall and restored living quarters and restroom facilities for workers. Cost of restorations and upgrades to the backstretch totaled $8.6 million.Morning workouts are from 6-10 a.m. each day, with a renovation break from 8-8:30 a.m.
Churchill Downs Incorporated owns Fair Grounds.