Fair Grounds Returns To Thanksgiving Opening

Fair Grounds returns to Thanksgiving opening

The nation's third-oldest racetrack will reignite one of its historic traditions when Fair Grounds Race Course opens the 2010-2011 Thoroughbred racing season in New Orleans with the 85th running of the $60,000 Thanksgiving H.

For many years Thanksgiving Day coincided with opening day at Fair Grounds, and now, following a two-year hiatus with earlier openings, the Crescent City oval returns to its more treasured schedule of hosting the six-furlong Thanksgiving H. as its opening day highlight.

Once again New Orleanians will pack Fair Grounds Clubhouse and the Grandstand to celebrate Turkey Day with a special 11:05 a.m. (CST) first post time for a nine-race program that will allow guests to be home in time to watch their beloved Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints play the Dallas Cowboys later in the afternoon.

FOREIGN PRODUCTION (Run Production), who finished second by a half-length in the Temperence Hill S. at last asking September 25 at Louisiana Downs, has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line choice in the Thanksgiving 'Cap, but is expected to face strong competition from SOK SOK (Trippi), who won this race two years ago.

As a Louisiana-bred, Foreign Production won Evangeline's restricted Louisiana Showcase Sprint on July 3 and Louisiana Downs' restricted Louisiana Cup Sprint May 22. The four-year-old gelding is trained by James "Sweet" Hodges and will be ridden by Carlos Gonzalez.

Sok Sok, who is conditioned by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen and will have Corey Lanerie aboard, finished fourth in last year's Thanksgiving H. and is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. In his last trip to the post on October 25 at Delaware Park, he finished a fast-closing third in an optional claiming five-furlong sprint and also boasts a runner-up finish in Fair Grounds' F.W. Gaudin Memorial last January 23.

Foreign Production must shoulder the top impost of 118 pounds, while Sok Sok is assigned the second high weight of 117.

Not to be easily dismissed in the Thanksgiving is Louie Roussel III's MAMBO GALLIANO (Black Mambo), who finished fifth in the grassy Arlington Sprint H. behind Chamberlain Bridge (War Chant), eventual winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G2) at Churchill Downs. Also worthy of consideration is COOL BULLET (Red Bullet), who captured last year's Sugar Bowl S. at Fair Grounds.

The Thanksgiving H. is just the first of a robust Thoroughbred stakes schedule that features 63 stakes cumulatively worth nearly $6.7 million, an average of more than $106,000 per race.

As ever, the Louisiana Derby (G2) is the meet's signature race, and ranks among the nation's premier events for three-year-olds preparing to make their next start in the Kentucky Derby (G1). The nine-furlong test will be worth $1 million when it is run for the 98th time on March 26, 2011, a $250,000 increase that will make it the richest Thoroughbred horse race ever run in New Orleans and the first such race worth seven figures.

The 2010 Louisiana Derby, won by Mission Impazible (Unbridled's Song), has proven to be the deepest of this spring's Kentucky Derby prep races. The Louisiana Derby superfecta was rounded out by runner-up A Little Warm, winner of the Jim Dandy S. (G2) at Saratoga; third-place finisher Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor), the eventual Belmont S. (G1) winner; and fourth-place finisher Discreetly Mine (Mineshaft), arguably the top three-year-old sprinter in North America after a powerful win in Saratoga's King's Bishop S. (G1). The stellar field of 13 also included eventual Dwyer S. (G2) winner, Belmont and Travers S. (G1) runner-up and Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) third Fly Down (Mineshaft); Woodbine's Wando S. and Mobil S. winner Hotep (A.P. Indy); and Arlington Park's American Derby (G2) runner-up Mister Marti Gras (Belong to Me). Every Louisiana Derby starter that remained in training has since won a race.

The Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), a race that has been won by the eventual Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine in four of its last six runnings, will move back to Louisiana Derby Day, a Saturday, after a one-year stint anchoring Friday's stakes extravaganza the day before. Louisiana Derby Day will feature six open-company stakes worth at least six figures, including four of Fair Grounds' five Grade 2 events: the Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds Oaks, New Orleans H. and Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial H.

The Friday of Louisiana Derby Week will still feature a stakes extravaganza, but this year's program will instead showcase Louisiana-breds. Five races for horses bred in the Bayou State will be run on March 25.

The Fair Grounds stakes schedule includes 10 graded stakes, five Grade 2s and five Grade 3s. In addition to the four graded stakes on the final Saturday of the meet, the others are the Risen Star S. (G2) for three-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on February 19, the Lecomte S. (G3) for three-year-olds on January 22, the Silverbulletday S. (G3) for three-year-old fillies, the Mineshaft H. (G3) for older horses, and both the Fair Grounds H. (G3) and Colonel E.R. Bradley H. (G3) for older turf horses. The Silverbulletday, Mineshaft and Fair Grounds H. will be run February 19, while the Bradley is scheduled for January 22.

Five stakes races that appeared on last season's schedule have been discontinued, primarily because those editions produced small fields. The eliminated stakes are the Daily Racing Form Distaff for fillies and mares on the main track, the Furl Sail H. for fillies and mares on the turf, the Old Hickory S. for two-year-olds, the Pontalba S. for two-year-old fillies, and the Si Cima S. for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares on the main track. The Furl Sail has been replaced by the Blushing K.D. H.

The only race to see its purse reduced from last season is the New Orleans Ladies S.. Initially created to attract Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, the 1 1/16-mile contest for fillies and mares will be worth $100,000 in 2011, down from $200,000 for the inaugural running.


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