Fair Grounds Offers Record Stakes Purses in First Post-Katrina Meet

Edited Fair Grounds release
Fair Grounds Race Course president Randall E. Soth announced Friday that the New Orleans track's first meet since Hurricane Katrina will offer a record stakes schedule worth more than $7.7 million, the highest totals in the track's 134-year history.

The highlight of the schedule will be Louisiana Derby Day on Saturday, March 10, 2007. Five stakes worth $2.1 million are scheduled, making it the richest day of racing in Louisiana history. Fair Grounds' four grade II stakes, including the 94th running of the Louisiana Derby, will be run on one day.

The four grade II races – which also include the Fair Grounds Oaks, New Orleans Handicap and Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap – are part of a record 10 graded stakes on the 2006-07 slate.

"We are pleased to be able to offer a vastly enhanced stakes program for our first season back in New Orleans," said Soth. "Our goals were to enhance our major event days and fill in gaps in some divisions, and we believe this schedule accomplishes both."

The growth of the schedule is most apparent on the major event days that became the anchor of Fair Grounds' schedule two seasons ago. Each day has grown by one stakes race.

The 16th edition of Louisiana Champions Day on Dec. 9 includes 11 races, with the addition of the Ladies Sprint. The Colonel Power Stakes was moved to "Road to the Derby" Kickoff Day Jan. 13. The grade III Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap was added to Louisiana Derby Preview Day Feb. 10, and the previously dormant Bienville Stakes returns to the stakes schedule on Louisiana Derby Day.

The other major event is Louisiana Lagniappe Weekend on the meet's closing weekend, March 24-25. Inaugurated for last season's meet at Harrah's Louisiana Downs, Lagniappe Weekend features 10 stakes, including six for state-breds. Five stakes will be run each day.

The Bienville and Esplanade Stakes return to the schedule for the first time in more than a decade. Previously run for state-breds, both races will be sprints for older fillies and mares.

Besides the Champions Day Ladies Sprint, four other new races were added to the schedule: the "Buddy" Diliberto Memorial Handicap, named for the late New Orleans broadcaster, on Dec. 16 for older horses on turf; the Bonapaw Stakes, named for the locally owned Grade I winner, Dec. 23 for sprinters on turf; the Fortin Handicap, named for the street bordering Fair Grounds to the south, for older fillies and mares on March 17, and the Grindstone Stakes, named for the 1996 Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby winner, for 3-year-olds on turf on March 24.