Gary McMillen

Nothing Easy About Fair Grounds' Forced Move

Welcome to the "new normal." No red beans and rice. No oysters on the half shell. No cornbread dressing. The 134th season of Thoroughbred racing at Fair Grounds in New Orleans opened Nov. 19 in, of all places, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Sucker Punched

By Gary McMillen - Enough Doppler radar. It was Saturday afternoon when I drove out to Lake Pontchartrain to gather my thoughts and make a decision. Sitting on the seawall, listening to the splash of waves on the concrete steps, I noticed there were no seagulls. That's when I decided to evacuate. If the birds didn't want to be in New Orleans, I sure as hell didn't want to stay, either.

Fair Grounds Race Report: McPeeking in New Orleans

It was the same old song but with a different beat. In 1995, trainer Kenny McPeek brought Tejano Run to Fair Grounds for his sophomore debut in the Risen Star Stakes. Tejano Run staggered home in fifth as the 1-2 favorite that year but went on to finish a fast-closing second to Thunder Gulch in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

Twin Dream

By Gary McMillen -- Talking to twins Dennis and Jimmy Richard is like listening to a Cheech and Chong record. They finish each other's sentences. Each seems to know what the other is thinking about. Lately, they have a one-track mind, and that's getting their sprinter Bonapaw to Dubai.

Fair Grounds Race Report: Easy Does It

For some owners and trainers, the $100,000 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 26 was the goal. For others, the mile race was just a pop quiz. Questions had to be answered before the final exam, the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) scheduled for March 10. Intentions were hard to read.

Crackdown: Rider Gerard Melancon Wins Race Against Addiction

Addiction to crack cocaine can cost you your job, your family, and sometimes your life. Just ask jockey Gerard Melancon, who came close to losing the whole package. Melancon, currently vying for the top spot among riders at Fair Grounds, tumbled as far as a man can fall since his heady days of early stardom nearly 20 years ago.

From the Print Edition: Sturdy Oak

Shades of Seabiscuit. Hallowed Dreams' lifetime record looked like a typographical error (27: 25-0-2). She was racing back in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Sprint on just seven days of rest. She was in against eight males and one other filly. Hollywood could not have written a more perfect script for the marquee Louisiana-bred who had earned the reputation of being a winning machine.

Fair Grounds Racing Report: Tijiyr Posts Upset Victory

Big money. Big money. Six-hundred thousand dead presidents were on the line in the nine-furlong Explosive Bid Handicap (gr. IIT) on March 25 and there were plenty of takers. Top grass horses from each corner of the map swarmed into Fair Grounds like moths attracted to a porch light. Five invaders came from the East Coast and six shipped in from California. The biggest name on the marquee was Centennial Farms' King Cugat, a multiple graded stakes winner, who was making his 4-year-old debut. However, trainer Niall O'Callaghan came to bury Caesar, not to praise him, and he did it with Gary Tanaka's Tijiyr. The Irish-bred, under Robby Albarado, put in a determined finish to cap off a ground-saving trip and seal the upset ($21.40) victory.

Fair Grounds Report: Fifty Stars Shines in Louisiana Derby

It took a giant leap of faith to see Fifty Stars as a contender in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II), much less the $43 winner. Looking down the barrel at Dollar Bill, Millennium Wind, and Hero's Tribute, the late running son of Quiet American was in deep water. Fifty Stars had not made a lasting impression in his two previous races. His late run in the Jan. 27 LeComte was good for fourth place, but three weeks later he took a step backward in the Risen Star with a dull fifth-place finish.

Fair Grounds Report: All Inclusive

The voice over the public address system said, "Bring your horses over for the eighth race." Trainer Grover (Bud) Delp had brought hundreds of horses over for the eighth race and was in no hurry. In his mind, this horse was special and everything had to be perfect. The object of Delp's attention was the improving 4-year-old Include. The handsome son of Broad Brush stood in his stall like a gentleman while the groom applied the moistened tongue-tie and slipped a set of yellow blinkers over the colt's head. "He can be a handful," Delp said, "so we tack him up in the stall. That seems to keep him in a frame of mind where he is relaxed and focused at the same time. It's not standard procedure but you have to do it the way the horse tells you."

Fair Grounds Racing: Big Day For 'Little Man'

Louisiana Champions Day is when the little man can stand at center stage, and they don't get much smaller than Peter Orlando. Right On the Mark, a 6-year-old gelding owned and trained by Orlando, gave the 59-year-old his first stakes win in 40 years of racing in the Champions Day Classic Dec. 9. "I'm just a small guy," Orlando explained. "It's just me by myself and four horses. I breed 'em and race 'em. That's all I do."

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