Average Wagering Declines During Relocated, Shortened Fair Grounds Meet

Edited press release
Fair Grounds Race Course concluded a shortened and relocated 134th season of racing on Sunday. The meet was moved to Harrah's Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., after Hurricane Katrina caused significant damage to and forced the temporary closure of Fair Grounds' home site in New Orleans.

Fair Grounds' traditionally hosts 80-plus days of live racing, from Thanksgiving Day through late March. The 2005-2006 season was comprised of 37 race days, spread from Nov. 19 through Jan. 22. Due to the difference in the number of race days, average daily wagering figures are used to compare the just-finished season with the 2004-2005 race meet, which featured 82 days of live racing.

Total wagering, which includes wagers made on track and at simulcast outlets, was $134.6 million, or an average of $3.64 million per day. Average daily wagering from all sources was 13.1% below the 2004-2005 daily average of $4.18 million.

On-track wagering totaled $5.96 million, or $161,252 per day, a drop of 27.2% from last season's average of $221,481. Average daily simulcast wagering, which includes wagering at Fair Grounds' off-track betting parlors, was $3.48 million, a decline of 12.3% from the 2004-2005 season.

Because admission is free at Louisiana Downs, attendance was not counted this season.

Fair Grounds president and general manager Randy Soth attributed declines to the hurricane and its aftermath, which impacted Fair Grounds' primary customer base in southeast Louisiana as well as the meet's schedule and location.

"Our objective from the outset was to ensure that our Louisiana horsemen had a place to compete within their home state, regardless of the disruption and economic uncertainty brought by one of the most damaging natural disasters in American history," said Soth. "Making this meet happen took real teamwork on behalf of our horsemen and state regulators and the great management team at our host site, Harrah's Louisiana Downs. Through the support and cooperation of all of those stakeholders, we were able to offer 37 days of competitive racing with the highest average daily purses in Louisiana history. Just as important, we were able to keep Fair Grounds' legacy alive, and that makes our just-completed season especially gratifying.

"Now that the meet has ended, our next focus will be completing the necessary repairs to our home site in New Orleans to ensure another great tradition continues, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is scheduled to return to its Fair Grounds home this spring."

"Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs Incorporated should be commended for all that they have done to assist the racing industry in Louisiana and for having this meet during trying times," said Louisiana Downs' vice president of racing operations Ray Tromba. "Harrah's Louisiana Downs was happy to have been part of it."

Total purse distribution was $14.3 million, for an average of $388,126 per day, highest ever for a meet in Louisiana and up 44.9% over last year's average of $267,784 per day. Better-than- expected business levels at six southeast Louisiana off-track betting parlors that Fair Grounds operates and was able to reopen after the hurricane accounted for three purse increases – one before the meet began and two in December.

Horsemen responded to the record purses, as the average field size of 9.46 was up 13.7% over last season's average of 8.32 horses per race.

On the track, Steve Asmussen won 38 races to capture his sixth consecutive Fair Grounds training title, matching Jack Van Berg's streak of six straight from 1966-71. Asmussen won a nation-leading 474 races in 2005, the third time in four years he has achieved the feat.

Jockey Roman Chapa, who rode many of Asmussen's winners, won 45 races for his first Fair Grounds riding title. Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and Maggi Moss shared the Fair Grounds owner's title with six victories each. Lawyer Ron, who had a 10-length allowance romp in addition to his Risen Star triumph, was named "Horse of the Meeting" in a vote of media and racing officials.