Purses up, takeout down as famed connections return with Kentucky Derby dreams
New Orleans, LA (November 14, 2022)—The nation’s third oldest racetrack, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots is set to open for the 151st meet on Friday, Nov 18. Two racing days kick things off and post time will be 3 p.m. (all times Central) on Friday and 1:15 p.m. on Saturday. Opening weekend of the 80-day Thoroughbred meet includes the inaugural running of six stakes written for Louisiana-breds, serving as preps for Louisiana Champions Day on Dec 10.
The meet will feature 65 stakes worth a combined $8.5 million, up more than $700,000 from last season. Working with the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Fair Grounds’ racing office created 12 new stakes peppered throughout the schedule, making it the richest program ever offered in Louisiana.
Christmas comes early for horseplayers as Fair Grounds has announced takeout will be lowered to 15% for the Pick 5. Also, a non-jackpot $1 Pick 6, also with a low 15% take, has been added to the wagering menu. Everyone will get to see the payouts light up the new toteboard in the infield.
The progression of the Road to Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep races continues to attract top connections. Beginning with the $100,000 Gun Runner (Dec 26) for 2-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles, the Grade 3 $200,000 Lecomte (Jan 21) stays at that same distance, then the Grade 2 $400,000 Risen Star (Feb 19) stretches out to 1 1/8 miles. It all culminates in the 1 3/16 miles Grade 2 $1,000,000 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (March 25).
Fair Grounds has become the sport’s destination for 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. 3-year-olds running in these races have had phenomenal success in the “Run for the Roses.” Country House won in 2019, Mandaloun won in 2021, and Epicenter finished second in 2022 Further than that, the 2022 Kentucky Derby trifecta and four of the top six finishers of 2021 all traveled through Fair Grounds’ Derby preps.
Much of the excitement around the Derby prep races extends from the presence of perennial powerhouses Steve Asmussen and Brad Cox who will be back for 2022 – 2023. Dating back to 1994, Asmussen has won 1081 races at Fair Grounds, including last year’s Gun Runner, Risen Star, and Louisiana Derby with Epicenter, and the Fair Grounds Oaks with Echo Zulu. North America’s all-time leading trainer, Asmussen’s historic 10,000th career win will likely come during the meet.
Cox finished second in the 2021 – 2022 trainer standings but he earned the crown four years in a row starting in 2016. Last year’s string of 3-year-olds included Grade 2 $300,000 Rachel Alexandra-winner Turnerloose, as well as Kentucky Derby-runners Cyberknife, Tawny Port, and Zozos.
“We are very much looking forward to welcoming our horsemen back for our 151st season at this historic racetrack,” said Racing Secretary Scott Jones. “Fair Grounds has proven to be one of the premier winter racing destinations. Once again last year, the quality of horses who stabled or came through New Orleans made a huge impact in premier races all over the country.”
Titan trainers Tom Amoss, Al Stall Jr., Bret Calhoun, Dallas Stewart, Greg Foley, and Michael Stidham all return with packed barns of stakes-caliber Thoroughbreds.
A new addition to the backside is Ken McPeek. McPeek shipped in Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll to last year’s Derby preps. With a win in the Preakness and the Belmont under his belt, he is still on the hunt for his first Kentucky Derby winner.
Beyond Kenneth McPeek, new barns include 2022 Derby-runner Barber Road’s trainer John Ortiz, Brian Williamson and Mike Tomlinson. Robertino Diodoro will have a larger presence than last year, as will Norm Casse, and Chris Davis returns following a year in Florida.
“The owners, the trainers, the jockey colony, the backside workers–there’s something special about Fair Grounds that extends from the heritage of horse racing in Louisiana,” said Racing Director Jason Boulet. “With the new tote board, the increased purses, the high profile connections and the best of the esteemed Louisiana-bred program, we are thrilled for what’s in store for our 151st year.”
Week two of racing picks back up on Thanksgiving, a well-celebrated New Orleans tradition, with a noon starting time on a card that features the 98th running of the Thanksgiving Classic, last year won by Just Might, the winning-most stakes horse in North America in 2021. His trainer Michelle Lovell will be back after winning 9 races at a 21% clip last season.
Coming off back-to-back trainer and jockey titles, all connections will be targeting Ron Faucheux and James Graham. Faucheux consistently excels at Fair Grounds, and sitting at 283 local wins, the barn will assuredly surpass 300 this meet. No active jockey comes close to James Graham’s career 1283 wins at Fair Grounds, but there are three new yet familiar additions to this year’s colony who have had their lion’s share of success.
Famed pilot of Gun Runner, Monomoy Girl, The Pizza Man, and 2021 Derby-winner Mandaloun, Florent Geroux returns to Fair Grounds seeking his next world-traveling, grade-one winning mount. With two riding titles and a 22% career win rate at Fair Grounds, Geroux will be back looking to pick up where he left off in 2020 – 2021.
Hailing from the Lafayette area, Fair Grounds welcomes home Louisiana-natives Corey Lanerie and Jamie Theriot. With 5 top 5 finishes in the jockey standings, Lanerie will get live mounts. Winner of the 2007 – 2008 jockey title but absent from racing since 2018, Theriot will be donned “The Comeback Kid” as he battles to earn a seat aboard his next Breeders’ Cup winner, having ridden two for Bret Calhoun in 2010.
Other newcomers to the colony include David Cohen who rode last winter at Oaklawn Park. Coming off a successful year riding in Kentucky where he got first call on a lot of Tom Amoss horses, Edgar Morales moves his tack back south, where he rode three meets between 2017 – 2020.
Ready and waiting will be Rey Gutierrez and Jareth Loveberry who both finished in the top 10 their first season at Fair Grounds. In May career win 6,000 came for Deshawn Parker, and he’ll be back for his second local meet after riding 40 to the finish line first last year. The 2018 – 2019 title-winner Adam Beschizza, brothers Brain Hernandez Jr. and Colby Hernandez, and “Mighty” Mitchell Murrill will each vie for a spot in the top 10 of an accomplished jockey colony.
Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stable ran away with the 2021 – 2022 owner’s title with every one of her 22 winners being sired by Star Guitar, the all-time leading money earner among Louisiana-breds. The trainer behind those wins, Jose Camejo, returns with many of the same formful LA-breds.
When not playing the races live at Fair Grounds, fans can enjoy the spoils of one of our 15 statewide Off Track Betting facilities, or play the races through mobile devices at Twin Spires. The official wagering service of the Kentucky Derby will also entice fans with ongoing promotional offers to potentially help pad their wagering accounts. Don’t forget to opt in!
Fair Grounds will also team with Horse Racing Nation to provide unique horseplayer content and in depth coverage. Both the Louisiana and Muniz Stakes are presented by Horse Racing Nation.
The 80-day, 2022-2023 Fair Grounds racing season runs through Sunday, March 26. Regular post time will be 1:15 p.m., but there will be an earlier noon first post on Thanksgiving Day (Nov 24), Louisiana Champions Day (Dec 10), Road to the Derby Kickoff Day (Dec 26), Road to the Derby Day presented by Hotel Monteleone (Jan 21), Louisiana Derby Preview Day presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln (Feb 18), and Louisiana Derby Day (March 25). A complete list of the racing days and stakes schedule can be found here: https://www.fairgroundsracecourse.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/FGNO-42861_22-23-ThoroughbredRacingSched.PocketGuide-8.5×11-WEB_V4-HR.pdf.