Most years, it’s almost impossible to bet on the Kentucky Derby at the Fair Grounds, even though the racetrack is owned by Churchill Downs.
That’s because Derby Day — the first Saturday in May — usually conflicts with Jazz Fest’s second Saturday, and save for a single machine in the employee dining room, the Fair Grounds’ off track betting facilities are closed.
Not this time, though.
For the first time since 2005 and the last time until 2022, there is no conflict. Accordingly, the Fair Grounds will have both of its OTB rooms open instead just one, which is the case other offseason days, actually more than doubling the capacity.
With the Tom and Gayle Benson-owned Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready in the field, Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said he expecting things to be “shoulder-to-shoulder,” even though the other 11 OTBs operated by the Fair Grounds will be open and anticipating large turnouts for the simulcast as well.
“It’s always our busiest day of the year at the OTBs,” Bryant said, “So maybe folks, especially those living in proximity to the Fair Grounds, will take this opportunity.
“The Kentucky Derby is always huge for us. And, yes, we are hoping for our local horses to win.”
The mood is the same at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, where the Derby’s 5:34 p.m. post time dovetails neatly into Evangeline’s 6 p.m. start for its first race.
And with the Acadiana-area favorites Keith and Kent Desormeaux saddling Exaggerator along with homegrown jockeys Corey Lanerie and Brian Hernandez aboard Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready, the interest level is higher than normal as well.
“Next to Legends Night, this is our biggest day of the year,” Evangeline director of racing Chris Warren said. “We reach out to our patrons to come out and spend Derby Day with us and then stay for the racing.”
Warren added that Evangeline’s three OTB facilities along with the Opelousas operation will open at 9 a.m. because of Churchill Downs’ early post time for its first race.
The same is true for the Fair Grounds OTBs, which also will have extra employees at its larger facilities and extra food options at the Fair Grounds.
Still, Bryant cautioned that the lines for the live tellers can be long since Derby Day brings out a good number of novice bettors.
“We aim to give the best service possible,” he said. “But we advise patience.”