- The 152nd racing season sees stakes purses rise to $9.7 million, the richest in Louisiana’s history
- Trainer Larry Rivelli and jockey Ben Curtis are just the tip of the intriguing iceberg of new connections ready to compete for the 2023 – 2024 titles
New Orleans, La (Nov. 10, 2023) – While many famed connections look to continue their tradition of remarkable success at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, a litany of intriguing new players prepare for their first winter in New Orleans. Opening day is scheduled for Friday Nov. 17, 2023 and with 73 stakes on the docket worth a combined $9.7 million, the table is set to be one of the most competitive in the track’s 152-year history.
The 76-day meet features all the traditions that horsemen, horseplayers, and fans look forward to: The Road to the Derby series kicks off on Dec. 23 with the Gun Runner Stakes. Low takeout returns as the 50-cent Pick 5 and $1 Pick 6 both remain at 15%. On Saturday, Dec. 2, the Claiming Crown will be held at Fair Grounds, the first time since 2011. Stakes purses are up $1.2 million from last year, including an increase for the 99th running of the $200,000 Thanksgiving Classic. Marking the centennial of Black Gold’s derby successes, a celebration will be held on March 2 coinciding with the 66th running of the Black Gold Stakes.
Fair Grounds is fortunate to be the winter home of many of the top trainers in the nation, including Steve Asmussen, Brad Cox, Cherie DeVaux, Tom Amoss, Brendan Walsh, Michelle Lovell, Bret Calhoun, Michael Stidham, Greg Foley, and Ken McPeek.
A new addition to the backside for 2023 – 2024 is Larry Rivelli. “The Riv,” as he was known at Arlington Park where he won nine trainer’s titles, shipped in Two Phil’s to last year’s Derby preps ahead of that colt’s second-place finish in Kentucky Derby 149. One of Rivelli’s 41 stalls is reserved for his Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Champion, Nobals.
Beyond Rivelli, new barns include three young and hungry trainers from the NYRA circuit. Raymond Handal, Rob Atras, and Robert Falcone Jr. each have just shy of a dozen stalls which they will fill with classy turf runners and if plans hold true, a revolving door of claimers.
Two more fresh faces, Whitworth Beckman and Carlo Vaccarezza will also have a string at Fair Grounds.
The sport’s biggest names jump off the page of the 2023 – 2024 barn list, but next to them are horsemen who look to be the new lifeblood of the sport. Of the 19 trainers who are moving into Fair Grounds backside for the first time, six are in their first year of training: Jervon Broussard, Kelly Avant, Juan Sanchez, Yovani Munoz, Lane Johnston, and Igor Presniak.
The most intriguing new addition to the jockey colony is Ben Curtis. With over 1,000 wins to his name, Curtis has been one of the top riders in England for the past decade and was crowned the All-Weather Champion jockey in 2021. Curtis will be represented by agent Ron Faucheux, who after winning three trainer’s titles in a row stepped into a new role after the 2022 – 2023 meet.
Another new pilot is Jaime Torres, who in a little over a year’s time has already won 100 races, mostly across the NYRA circuit.
Last year’s top jockey, Rey Gutierrez, will return for his third year to defend his title. Gutierrez is joined in the jock’s room by the likes of Florent Geroux, Brian Hernandez, Jr. James Graham, Deshawn Parker, and Corey Lanerie, who in October won his 5,000th race.
Jockeys Aubrey Green, Erica Murray, and Sofia Barandela all plan to return after successful 2022-2023 meets, and these three women riders will be joined by apprentice jockey Kylie Wellington.
But Wellington won’t be the only apprentice hustling for mounts. She is one of five “bugs” who will receive a weight allowance, including Carlos Barbosa, Serafin Carmona, Yoel Navas, and Valentin Esquivel.
In 2023, the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve was yet again dominated by the talent traveling Fair Grounds’ “Road to the Derby” prep races, which produced three of the top four finishers in the Run for the Roses. With its signature progression, the series begins at 1 1/16 miles for the $100,000 Gun Runner (Dec. 23) and the Grade 3 $200,000 Lecomte (Jan. 20). The Grade 2 $400,000 Risen Star (Feb. 17) extends to 1 1/8 miles, while the Grade 2 $1,000,000 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (March 23) is a 1 3/16-mile test for the 3-year-olds.
Since 2019, three of the last five Kentucky Derby winners have run in at least one of these races (Rich Strike, Mandaloun, and Country House). Beyond that, the 2022 Kentucky Derby trifecta and four of the top six finishers of 2021 all traveled through Fair Grounds’ Derby preps.
The 2023 – 2024 racing season marks the 100-year anniversary of Black Gold’s Louisiana Derby victory. He was the first local champion to go on and win the Kentucky Derby. The 66th running of the $75,000 Black Gold Stakes (3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the turf) will take place on March 2, 2024 and will include a proper celebration with his connections’ family in attendance. Rosa Hoots became the first woman to have bred and owned a Kentucky Derby winner. The first horse ever to win the derbies of four different states, Black Gold was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1989.
In the offseason, Fair Grounds erected two new barns to replace those wrecked in 2021 by Hurricane Ida. Last year, Fair Grounds installed a new, state-of-the-art toteboard in the infield. The Stall-Wilson turf course is full grown and looking beautiful, ready for everyday use as well as the many stakes scheduled to be run across it, including the Fair Grounds (G3) and Muniz (G2) both presented by Horse Racing Nation.
Fasig-Tipton has again been named the title sponsor of Fair Grounds’ 2023 series for 3-year-old fillies. The Fasig-Tipton Tremé Triple consists of the Silverbulletday Stakes (ran on Jan. 20), the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra (Feb. 17), and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on March 23. The name of the race series is a tribute to the historic Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans that borders Fair Grounds Race Course. Last year, the series produced the winner of Kentucky Oaks 149, Pretty Mischievous, the first from Godolphin to be crowned in Lilies.
Relyne GI By Hagyard presents three graded stakes for older, open company going a route of ground: The Grade 3 Louisiana (Jan. 20), the Grade 3 Mineshaft (Feb. 17), and the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic (March 23). Hotel Monteleone is the official hotel of Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots, and Molson Coors is the official beer partner.
Celebrating its 25th year, the Claiming Crown returns to Fair Grounds on Dec. 2. Purses will range from $75,000 to $200,000. Another $25,000 in each race will be available in purse supplements for accredited Louisiana-bred horses. The eight 2023 Claiming Crown races all are for horses 3-years-old and up, with two of those restricted to fillies and mares. Headlining the card is the $200,000 Jewel at 1 1/8 miles for horses that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less in 2022-23. It is the second straight year that the series has gone to a Churchill Downs Inc. property.
Six $75,000 Louisiana-bred stakes are slated for opening weekend, Nov. 17 and 18. Fillies and mares take center stage on Friday in the Doris Hebert Memorial (6 furlongs), the John Valene Memorial (1 mile & 70 yards), both for 3-year-olds and up, and the Donovan L. Ferguson Memorial, a 5 1/2 furlong event for 2-year-old fillies. Saturday’s trio of stakes are a mirror-image in terms of age, distance and surface, including the Larry D. Robideaux Memorial, the Jacob V. Morreale Memorial, and the Joseph R. Peluso Memorial, respectively. Each is in its second year of running, but four are renamed from last year to honor departed members of Louisiana’s racing community.
The 76-day, 2023-2024 Fair Grounds racing season runs through Sunday, March 24. Regular post time will be 12:45 p.m. CT. There will be an earlier noon CT first post on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23), Road to the Derby Kickoff Day (Dec. 23), Road to the Derby Day (Jan. 20) Louisiana Derby Preview Day (Feb. 17), and Louisiana Derby Day (March 23).
The full calendar and 2023-2024 Stakes Schedule can be found here: https://www.fairgroundsracecourse.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/FGNOThoroughbredRacingSched.pdf.