I, for one, will looking forward to the Fair Grounds meeting this winter in New Orleans. The track announced some changes to their schedule today for the upcoming season, mostly concerning the jewel event of the calendar, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The track is moving the date of the race later in the season, making it just five weeks out from the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. They are also extending the distance of the race to 1 1/8 miles from the previous length of 1 1/16 miles and boosting the Derby purse to $750,000. The track will be including three other Grade 2 races (the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Mervyn Muniz Memorial, and the New Orleans Handicap) on the Louisiana Derby program as well. The dates for the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes were also pushed back to continue them as natural preps for the Louisiana Derby.
On the other hand, the Fair Grounds is also introducing a new race to be held six weeks after the Breeders' Cup World Championships that might serve as a vehicle to match up Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. If they were able to pull it off, great, but I think they might end up being like the rest of us and having to dream about what a matchup of the two titanettes would be like.
So, I say "Hurray!" for the Fair Grounds for making the moves with the Louisiana Derby. For the last few years, the Derby has not served as a Kentucky Derby prep, it has served as a prep for the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, or the Wood Memorial. By moving it, the Fair Grounds has made its big race relevant again. I know that Larry Jones tried the Louisiana Derby as a final prep for the Kentucky Derby for Friesan Fire and we all saw how that turned out. I think this is especially important because of the similarity of the Fair Grounds setup to the Churchill Downs setup. I believe these two tracks have the longest stretches of any mile tracks in the country. This move can only make sense for any trainer wanting to get ready for the running style he or she will need in Kentucky.
Tune in for more tomorrow from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!