Fair Grounds Race Course
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Owned by||Churchill Downs Inc.|
|Notable races||Louisiana Derby (G2)|
New Orleans Handicap (G2)
Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Mml Handicap (G2)
Fair Grounds Oaks (G2)
Fair Grounds Race Course, often known as New Orleans Fair Grounds, is a thoroughbred racetrack and racino in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is operated by Churchill Downs Louisiana Horseracing Company, LLC.
As early as 1838 Bernard de Marigny, Julius C Branch and Henry Augustine Tayloe, organized races at the "Louisiana Race Course" laid out on Gentilly Road, making it the second oldest site of horseracing in America still in operation, after Freehold Raceway and before the Saratoga Race Course. It began on March 20 and lasted for five days. In 1852 it was renamed the Union Race Course. In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system for 65 Thoroughbred racetracks in North America. Of the top Fifteen, New Orleans Fair Grounds was ranked #12, behind Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, Louisiana, which was ranked #6.
In 1838 on April 10 Bernard de Marigny, Julius C Branch and Henry Augustine Tayloe (son of John Tayloe III of The Octagon House, national leader on turf, founder of the Washington Jockey Club (1798), who imported the great English thoroughbred Diomed that sired Sir Archy-whose progeny include Lexington, Secretariat and American Pharoah; the grandson of John Tayloe II who imported Childers (by Flying Childers), Jenny Cameron and Jolly Rogers (three of the most important colonial imports) and who built the grand colonial estate and stud farm Mount Airy), organized races at the "Louisiana Race Course."
April 10 the first race for "The Creole Purse" $1,000, free only for horses bred and owned in the state of Louisiana; two year olds a feather' three year olds 86lbs; four year olds, 100lbs' five year olds, 110lbs; six year olds, 118lbs; aged 124lbs; with the usual allowance of three pounds to mare and geldings; mile heats. First Day, First Race - owners and horses: Fergus Duplantier, Louisianese; John F Miller, Lord of the Isles; Robert J Barrows, Tom Jones; Y.N. Oliver, Pocohantas; Sosthene Allian, Tresorrier. Second Race, sweepstakes for three-year-olds, weights as before, five subscribers at $1000 each, $250 forfeit, mile heats. Owners and horses: William J Minor, Britiania; Thos. J Wells, Taglioni; John F Miller, John Boy; Henry Tayloe, Tom Thurman; Col Robert Smith, Lavinia. The second day, first race, purse $1,200, entrance $120, free for all ages, weights as before, two-mile heats. Owners and horses: Minor Kenner, Richard of York; A Barrows, Louisa Bascombe; Fergus Duplantier, Wren. The third day, purse $1,800, entrance $180, free for all ages, weights as before, three-mile heats. Owners and horses: Wm. R Barrow, Pressure, Thos. J Wells, Dick Chin; J. S. Garrison, Pollard; John Randolph Grymes, Susan Yandall; Robert Smith, Pete Whetstone. Fourth day "Creole Plate" (as seen in the picture), valued at $1,000. Entrance $100, five-year-olds and over to carry 100lbs; four-year-olds and under their appropriate weights, two-mile heats. Owners and horses: Adam Lewis Bingaman, Angora; Henry A. Tayloe, Hortense.
Began March 20, 1839, and lasting five days. "The First Day was the "Creole Purse" for $500, one mile heats; the same day the "Proprietors Purse" for $250, one mile heats; and third race "Sweepstakes" (See Spirit of Times). Second Day-"Proprietors Purse" $1,200—two mile heat; if more than two start the second best to be entitled to $200-but if two, the winner to receive $1,000. Third Day-"Jockey Club Purse" $1,800—three mile heats; of which the second best will be entitled to $300, if more than two start-if but two, the winner to receive $1500. Fourth Day-"Jockey Club Plate" value $1,500 and $500, -four mile heats-to the winner, and $500 to the second best horse, provided more than two start. Fifth Day-"Proprietors Purse" $600—mile heat-best 3 in 5; Same Day-"The Louisiana Plate" value $1,000—two mile heats; five year olds and over will carry 100lbs.- four year olds and under their appropriate weight."
The track opened again as the "Union Race Course" in 1852. The track closed in 1857 due to competition from the Metairie Course. In 1859 the track was renamed the "Creole Race Course." In 1863, the name was changed again to the "Fair Grounds" and racing was conducted during the Civil War.
The track then closed when the Metairie Course reopened after the war. In 1871, the younger members of the Metairie Jockey Club broke away to re-form the then defunct Louisiana Jockey Club and again hold meets at the Fair Grounds. In 1872 the first race card is held at the Fair Grounds under the auspices of the Louisiana Jockey Club.
In 1907, Colonel Matt Winn arrived in New Orleans to establish racing dates and deal with other matters in the Louisiana horse industry. In 1908, racing was banned in New Orleans but returned in 1915. In 1919 a fire burned down the grandstand but the track was still able to conduct a race meeting.
In 1921, an auto race was held at the track, the only car race at the fairgrounds.
In 1940, legislative sanction was given to racing in Louisiana. The track was then sold to developers for construction of a subdivision. In 1941, a group of investors saved Fair Grounds from destruction. The track resumed racing after World War II.
In 1981 a turf course was installed. In 1990 the track was sold to the Krantz family. In 1993, the grandstand was completely destroyed by a seven alarm fire and racing continued with temporary facilities in place for a couple of years. A new $27 million construction project began in 1994 and the completed grandstand/clubhouse was opened to the public on Thanksgiving Day 1997. The track was purchased by Churchill Downs Incorporated in 2004. Fair Grounds was heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina, and was closed for over a year, until re-opening on Thanksgiving Day 2006. The track conducted a 37-day meet at Louisiana Downs in replacement of the scheduled 2005-2006 meet.
Both the great race mare Pan Zareta and the winner of the 1924 Kentucky Derby, Black Gold are buried in the infield. It's also here that Tippity Witchet, the beloved son of Broomstick, ran many of his 266 races.
The track consists of a one-mile (1.6 km) dirt track and a seven furlong turf oval. In addition to the grandstand and clubhouse, an adjacent building, formerly used for simulcasting, opened on September 21, 2007 as a temporary slot-machine gaming facility. On November 14, 2008, the new slot-machine facility opened for operation.
- Donna Barton Brothers (1999–2002)
- Vince Marinello (1990–2005)
- Mike Diliberto (1990–2005)
- Jessica Pacheco (2006–2010)
- John G. Dooley (2004–present)
- Rick Mocklin (2009 fill-in)
- Katie Mikolay (2010-2013)
- Brian W. Spencer (2013–2017)
- Joe Kristufek (2017–present)
In a normal year the following graded stakes are run at Fair Grounds, the most prestigious of which is the Louisiana Derby, a Grade II stakes. The race is a major preparatory race for the Kentucky Derby as part of the Second leg of series for points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The following Graded events were held at Fair Grounds in 2019.
- Fair Grounds Oaks
- Louisiana Derby
- Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap
- New Orleans Handicap
- Rachel Alexandra Stakes
- Risen Star Stakes
Also on the card are several important ungraded races including:
- Bayou Handicap
- Black Gold Stakes
- Bonapaw Stakes
- Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap
- Crescent City Derby
- Crescent City Oaks
- Dixie Poker Ace Stakes
- Duncan F. Kenner Stakes
- Louisiana Champions Day Classic
- Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile Stakes
- Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Stakes
- Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint Stakes
- Louisiana Handicap
- Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap
- Pan Zareta Stakes
- Silverbulletday Stakes
- Sugar Bowl Stakes
- Tenacious Stakes
- Thanksgiving Classic
- Tiffany Lass Stakes
The Fair Grounds is also the location of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, held each year over a consecutive three-day and four-day weekend - generally the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May.
- Times Picayune, March 14, 1839, Page 1
- American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, Volume 9, 1838, pg 227
- American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, Volume 9, 1838, pg 227
- Times Picayune, Thursday March 14, 1839, Page 1
- "Crescent City Jockey Club Program, March 1 1904". Louisiana Digital Library. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
- "Crescent City Jockey Club Program, January 3 1906". Louisiana Digital Library. Retrieved 16 July 2018.