Members of the Louisiana State Racing Commission on Monday said they were pleased with Fair Grounds officials’ efforts to improve the track’s drainage for turf racing.
It comes with the racetrack set to open its season Nov. 21.
“They’re giving us some positive feedback on the conditions and commitments that we made to them and the (Louisiana) legislature,” Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said. “We’re meeting all the commitments.”
Approximately 120 races, which represents half of the turf races, were canceled or moved to the dirt track. However, poor drainage affected the quality of the turf and thus the quantity of the races.
Bryant, appearing before the Commission during its meeting at the Monteleone Hotel on Monday, detailed the progress concerning work to improve the track’s surface for turf racing. His report came on the heels of several Racing Commission members having visited the Fair Grounds.
“I was at the Fair Grounds,” said commission member Judy Wagner, who was voted in as first vice chairman on Monday. “Everything looks so lush and great.”
The Fair Grounds, owned and operated by Churchill Downs, made a commitment to the Louisiana Legislature to improve conditions at the track. Bryant has to provide monthly updates on the improvements being made at the track.
“They’ve done everything that we requested and what they needed to do,” said commission chairman Bob Wright. “So we’re pleased with what they’ve done and look forward to a really improved season. Everything’s hunky dory right now.”
R. Keith Gee, executive director of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, is not yet convinced concerning the drainage improvements and is taking a wait-and-see attitude. When the turf track’s quality was not up to par due to rain and poor drainage, a number of races were switched to the dirt track. That’s where the problem came in.
“The difference between a handle in a turf race and an off-the-track race is approximately $60,000,” Gee said. “So hopefully we’ll have part of those races back and we’ll have a good year.”
Bryant said more than 1,600 linear feet of main line was added at the track for drainage, along with 8-inch side piping. And, moisture readings are done each day.
Ben Chatters, president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent Association, said the Fair Grounds’ future will rise and fall on the quality of the repairs to the turf course, which is why there’s a wait-and-see attitude with his group.
“(Turf race) people from out of town don’t want to come back to the Fair Grounds because they can’t depend on a consistent quality of course,” he said. “And, we won’t know until the meet begins and there’s some rain. We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Wright, however seemed to voice the views of the other commission members, who he said are all enthusiastic about what has been done.
“I think it’ll attract more people to the track, certainly going to improve the conditions for the horsemen and their animals,” he said.
“We’re very pleased with what they reported and what we observed out there.”
Other improvements include the addition of three TVs for trainers to know when they’re up for races, backside improvements such as skylights replaced, new shower stalls, air condition units replaced and 1,888 stalls allotted, with doors added to all the stalls.
Also, $2.7 million that came into question has been put back in the the purses.