Fair Grounds Concludes 135th Season With Handle Increases

Fair Grounds Race Course concluded its 135th season of racing, and its first back at its home track since Hurricane Katrina, today with increases in average daily all-sources and on-track wagering and a record purse distribution.

In the 81-day meet, a total of $359.0 million, or an average of $4.43 million per day, was wagered on Fair Grounds races from racetracks, simulcast-wagering facilities and advance deposit wagering (“ADW”) platforms around the country, versus a total of $343.1 million wagered, or a daily average of $4.18 million, during the 82-day meet in 2004-05, which was the track’s last full season of racing. Fair Grounds held an abbreviated 37-day meet in 2005-06 at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La. For comparison purposes, the 2004-05 season is used throughout.

The 2006-07 average daily handle represents a 5.9-percent increase over the 2004-05 daily average. Averages are used for comparisons because the 2004-05 meet spanned one more racing day.

On-track wagering totaled $18.3 million, or $226,377 per day, an increase of 2.2 percent compared to total on-track wagering of $18.1 million, or an average of $221,481 per day, in the 2004-05 season. Wagers made on track through Fair Grounds’ ADW platform are not included in on-track handle numbers.

Total attendance for the 2006-07 meet was 153,186, for a daily average of 1,891. Attendance for the 2004-05 season was 172,550, or an average of 2,104 per day. The 10.1-percent decrease in average daily attendance is attributed principally to the decrease in the New Orleans-area population since Hurricane Katrina.

Total purse distribution was $31.3 million, for an average of $387,422 per day, highest ever for a meet in New Orleans. The average was an increase of 44.7 percent over the 2004-05 average of $267,784. That season’s total purse distribution was $21.9 million. Because of stronger than anticipated business levels at its affiliated off-track betting and video poker operations and the increase in all-sources wagering, Fair Grounds was able to increase overnight purses three times during the 2006-07 meet, once in January, February and March.

Horsemen demonstrated their appreciation for Fair Grounds’ competitive purses at the entry box. The average field size of 8.36 starters per race was up 0.4 percent over the 8.32 average in 2004-05 and was the highest for a meet in New Orleans since 2000-01. The increase came despite a seven-week stretch of wet weather from late December through early February; in that span, the turf course was used on only 12 of 33 racing days.

The highlights of the 2006-07 season were Fair Grounds’ re-opening on Thanksgiving Day, which attracted a facility record crowd of 8,732, and Louisiana Derby Day on March 10, in which a record total of $12.4 million was wagered, including a simulcast-era record of $901,941 in on-track wagering, on an 11-race card that was the richest in Louisiana racing history and featured five stakes races worth $2.1 million.

“This season was at the same time unique, memorable and rewarding,” said Fair Grounds President Randall Soth. “Going into the season, it was hard to set expectations, particularly in terms of our on-track business. However, it quickly became clear that racing fans in the New Orleans area and simulcast patrons nationwide would once again embrace our product, and for that we are extremely grateful.

“Personally, I will take away two moments from this season that will be etched in my memory forever – our re-opening on Thanksgiving Day and the local crowd that filled our facility to welcome racing back to New Orleans, and the Louisiana Derby Day program, which was one of the finest days of racing I have ever witnessed.”

In addition to the record-setting numbers on Thanksgiving Day and Louisiana Derby Day, Louisiana Derby Preview Day on Feb. 10 produced an all-sources handle of $8,672,971, fourth highest in Fair Grounds’ history.

The other major events on Fair Grounds’ schedule included the 16th annual Louisiana Champions Day on Dec. 9, “Road to the Derby” Kickoff Day on Jan. 13, and Louisiana Lagniappe Weekend on the final two days of the meet.

On the track, 17-year-old apprentice Joseph Talamo of suburban Marrero, La., became the first apprentice on record to win a Fair Grounds riding title. Talamo finished with 119 wins, 25 more than six-time Fair Grounds leading rider Robby Albarado. Talamo fell three wins short of the record of wins by an apprentice at a Fair Grounds meet of 122 set 32 years ago by Angelo Trosclair.

New Orleans native Tom Amoss won 52 races to capture his ninth Fair Grounds training title, but his first since 2001. Amoss moved within one of Jack Van Berg’s Fair Grounds record of 10 seasons as leading trainer. Cody Autrey was second with 42 wins.

Autrey’s primary clients, Sandy and Jerry Heflin of Rockwall, Texas, won 30 races to capture their first Fair Grounds owner’s title. For the Heflins, who bought their first horse three years ago, it is their second title; they also were leading owners last summer at Lone Star Park.

Fair Grounds hosted a record 10 graded stakes in 2006-07, including four Grade II events on Louisiana Derby Day: the Louisiana Derby, won by Michael and Doreen Tabor’s Circular Quay; the New Orleans Handicap, won by Aaron and Marie Jones’ Master Command; the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap, won by Midnight Cry Stable’s Einstein, and the Fair Grounds Oaks, captured by J. Paul Reddam’s Mistical Plan. Circular Quay was voted Horse of the Meeting in a poll of media and racing officials.

Fair Grounds Race Course, the nation’s third-oldest Thoroughbred racing facility, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN) and also operates off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Information about Fair Grounds can be found on the Internet at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.