New Orleans (March 23, 2020) – Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots returned to the traditional Thanksgiving Day opening for the start of the 148th racing season, but the meet concluded six racing days prior to the scheduled March 29 closing date due to a “stay-home” order issued by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, following public health concerns in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some eight days earlier on Friday, March 13, Fair Grounds was ordered to conduct live racing with no patrons, only essential employees, licensed horsemen (including owners) and credentialed media were allowed on track.
On what would be the final racing day of the meet, in front of an empty grandstand with only essential employees and horsemen with a horse in the race allowed to be present, Clint Gasaway, Lance Gasaway, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables’ Wells Bayou captured the 107th running of the Twin Spires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) in front-running style, earning 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which a week earlier was pushed back to Saturday, September 5. Extended to the 1 3/16ths-mile distance for the first time, the Louisiana Derby drew a full an overflow field, and 14 horses started.
Trainer Brad Cox won the final three stakes, and four races in total, on the Louisiana Derby Day card, taking the Mervin Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) with Gaining Ground Racing’s Factor This and the Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks with Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Bonny South (G2) prior to her Derby win with Wells Bayou.
Earlier in the meet, Cox won the first division of the Risen Star (G2) presented by Lamarque Ford-Linclon with Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, and Doheny Racing’s Mr. Monomoy, a half brother to 2018 champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl.
The Risen Star, which was extended to 1 1/8-miles for the first time, drew 23 entrants and thus was split into two divisions. The original $400,000 purse and Kentucky Derby qualifying points (50-20-10-5) remained the same for both divisions.
Cox, who led all trainers with 12 stakes wins at the meet, took home his third consecutive trainer’s title winning with 40 of his 147 starters. Locally-based Ron Faucheaux, who won his 500th career race during the meet, finished second with 34 wins. Tom Amoss (29), Steve Asmussen (26) and Bret Calhoun (22) rounded out the top five.
James Graham (63 wins) held off Mitchell Murrill (60) and Colby Hernandez (60) to take down his second Fair Grounds’ jockey title, with the first coming during the 2014-15 meet.
Florent Geroux, who finished fourth in the standings with 56 wins, led all jockeys in purses earned with $2,939,706 and stakes victories with ten. Shaun Bridgmohan was second with nine stakes scores.
Brian Hernandez, Jr., who completed the top five in the standing with 45 wins, scored career victory 2,000 on December 19, when guiding the Jimmy Baker-trained Afleet Roger to the winner’s circle.
In what was a tight owner’s race, Winalot Racing, LLC edged Maggie Moss 13-12, with Godolphin, LLC (11), Earl J. Hernandez, Keith J. Hernandez and John Duvielh (11) and Calumet Farm (10).
Prior to her disappointing fourth place finish as the 1-5 favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Thomas Reiman, William Dickson, and Debbie Easter’s Finite won both the Silverbulletday and the Rachel Alexandra (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton. Her victory in the Silverbulletday represented the 1,000th career stakes win for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who joined D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher as the only trainers to achieve this feat.
Fourteen horses won three races at the meet. In addition to Finite, Factor This (both graded), Bobby’s Wicked One, Play On, Hieronymus, and Louisiana-bred Net a Bear, Vacherie Girl, Ninety One Assault and each won two stakes.
Allied Racing Stable’s By My Standards returned to the scene of his 2019 Louisiana Derby win to take the New Orleans Classic (G2) for trainer Bret Calhoun and jockey Gabriel Saez.
Prior to finishing fifth in the Louisiana Derby and second in the first division of the Risen Star, John Oxley’s Enforceable won the Lecomte (G3). The race was extended from 1 mile and 70 yards to 1 1/16-miles.
For the 2019-20 racing season, Fair Grounds eliminated handicap conditions for stakes races. These races are now weighted under allowance conditions.