NEW ORLEANS — Saturday is going to be a busy sports day in New Orleans.
In chronological order:
8 a.m.: The 35th Crescent City Classic features a new starting point, Poydras Street near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome; and a new title sponsor, the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
1 p.m.: The Zephyrs play their parent team, the Miami Marlins, in the first major league exhibition game here since 1999.
5 p.m.: The 100th running of the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, with, for the first time, an infield festival that will add room for 5,000 more fans.
6 p.m.: The VooDoo play Iowa in the New Orleans Arena.
“It’s definitely a big day,” Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said. “I’ve been here for three years, and it’s certainly the most important one we’ve had.”
The Louisiana Derby, with a $1 million purse, already was a big event. And with the new points system determining Kentucky Derby qualifiers, it’s now a make-or-break race for several hopefuls, even long shots like Hero of Order, last year’s winner at 109-1 odds.
To help with overcrowding in the traditional viewing areas, Fair Grounds officials came up with the infield festival, a staple of Derby Day at Churchill Downs, the local track’s parent company. There will 17 food trucks and music by Cowboy Mouth and Flow Tribe. Officials are expecting tickets to be gone by Friday.
The Fair Grounds is providing shuttle-service parking at the old Kennedy High School.
Crescent City Classic officials said things had grown a bit stale with the 10K, which used to attract fields in excess of 35,000 but has been less than half of that in recent years.
First-year race director Eric Stuart said almost 18, 000, about half of them walkers, have registered for Saturday’s race, with another 3,500 expected by Friday’s deadline.
And when repairs to Esplanade, which makes up much of the race route, are completed, Stuart said the CCC will be the fastest course in the country, which should help rebuild the numbers even more.
Out at the ballpark, the Zephyrs have sold about 7,300 tickets for Saturday’s game with a final turnout of about 10,000 possible.
That’s not bad considering that the 2013 Marlins have the lowest payroll in the majors and are expected to struggle this season.
Getting big clubs to consider playing exhibitions anywhere but their spring training homes or their own stadiums on the weekend before the season starts requires favorable financial considerations by the minor league teams, who have the burden of game expenses.
Zephyrs General Manager Mike Schline said he isn’t sure this will become an annual affair, but he promises it won’t be another 14 years between visits.
The VooDoo game is the only one that’s not dependent on the weather.
But the forecast for Saturday is partly cloudy with a high of 74.
Yep, it’s going to be one busy, and nice, sports day.