The Fair Grounds boasts an extended 12-day slate as it opens the seventh iteration of its annual Summer Quarter Horse Meet at 12:30 p.m. Friday, kicking off with a 10-race trial for the high stakes Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association Sales Futurist that will conclude the season on Sept. 5.
Mark Conner, senior director of marketing for the Fair Grounds, projects a total purse payout of $2.1 million, which is based on an undisclosed percentage of the wagered handle and revenue from slots and video poker machines.
“That’s quite a bit of money available for the horsemen and the owners,” Conner said.
Conner said organizers expected a meet consisting of the legally mandated minimum of 10 days but agreed to an extra two days when the LQHBA and Louisiana Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association asked it of them.
While the state’s racing enthusiasts’ relationship with the Fair Grounds and its corporate ownership, Churchill Downs, has frequently proved contentious this year over the handling of facility upkeep, LQHBA executive director Tony Patterson was gracious of the track’s prompt approval of the request.
“We were very fortunate and happy to get those two extra days,” Patterson said. “That means a whole lot that the Fair Grounds came through for us. It gives our horsemen the chance to run their horses a couple times.”
“It was a good working compromise with the quarter horse organization to make sure we were accommodating their needs,” Conner said.
Conner said there will be 640 “actively participating” horses on the backside, while Patterson put the number stabled between 700 and 800, not counting the number of horses that will be shipped in for race day. A Fair Ground press release welcomes the quarter horses as “The Fastest Athletes in the World,” as they run shorter distances at a greater speed than the thoroughbreds which compete in the longer, more popular winter season.
“It’s much more of a dynamic sprinter-style racing,” Conner said. “It’s the equivalent of drag racing versus stock car.”
All of the 85 quarter horses vying for entry into the Futurist and its approximate $110,000 first-place purse Friday were sold in the LQHBA’s annual yearling sale last summer, along with the fall mixed sale. This year’s sale, held last weekend, was the association’s “best ever,” according to Patterson, with a record 534 horses sold at an average price 30 percent higher than the previous.
That’s good news for owners, trainers, jockeys and fans who fear interest in horse racing is waning terminally.
“It indicates that the economy and the love for horse racing is on the rise, especially here in Louisiana,” Patterson said.
The Futurist will draw the most attention from the racing community, but racegoers apparently look forward most to Saturday’s exotic animal racing. For the third time at the Fair Grounds, heats consisting of zebras and ostriches are expected to draw 10,000 attendees, Conner said, compared to 1,000 on a typical race day.
“It’s always well-attended and well-liked by the local fans, so we wanted to bring that back,” Conner said. “ It should be a pretty fun day.”
Other attractions available Saturday will be the Crepes a la Carte and Messina’s food trucks, margaritas and snoballs at the Paddock, a “pony hop” race with attendees bouncing on blowup horses and guest emceeing by local broadcaster Travers Mackel.