On Katrina Anniversary, Fair Grounds Progressing

Edited press release

On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's destruction of the Gulf Coast, the restoration project at Fair Grounds Race Course continues, as does the countdown to the return of racing.

Fair Grounds administration returned to its offices in early July, and it re-opened its off-track betting facility adjacent to the grandstand Aug. 16. Brice Building Company is handling the restoration project.

Katrina forced the race track to shift its 2005-06 season from New Orleans to Harrah's Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., where it conducted an abbreviated 37-day meet from Nov. 19-Jan. 22.

Fair Grounds' 135th season, the first live racing in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, begins Nov. 23 and is headlined by the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) March 10, 2007.

Fair Grounds president Randall E. Soth said last week the grandstand restoration is about 80% complete, while the backstretch is about 60% done. The grandstand will be completed in time for the start of Fair Grounds' season, and the backstretch work is scheduled for completion in time for the opening of the barn area Nov. 1.

The racetrack lost half of its grandstand roof and stucco walls during the hurricane, and the breaches of nearby levees flooded the racing surfaces, infield, and backstretch. The grandstand did not flood, but had significant water damage, particularly in the clubhouse area, because the roof and walls were peeled away.

The exterior walls were restored by February. Replacement of the roof, which required an upgrade to withstand winds provided by a category four storm, was completed in late March, and power was restored to the facility a week later.

Backstretch repairs include replacement of roofs on eight barns and repair of 20 others, the removal and replacement of thousands of sheets of plywood that line the individual horse stalls, and replacement of nearly 300 doors. The dirt in the barn area is being scraped and replaced because it was likely contaminated with salt water from the flooding, and the backstretch fire protection system has been upgraded.

The dirt track and turf course, along with the infield, sat under water for several days after the hurricane. To remove any salt from these surfaces, crews put down 90,000 pounds of granulated gypsum, and the drainage pond on the east end of the infield, which is also used for irrigation, was completely drained and dredged.