Opening day at the historic New Orleans Fair Grounds was officially held Friday, but for the traditionalists out there — and count me among them — the real opening day at the track will always and forever be Thanksgiving Day.
I like to think of the preceding weekend’s three days of racing as a preseason of sorts for the real beginning of the winter/spring racing season that has traditionally been a premier winter gathering spot for some of the nation’s best equine athletes trying to escape the winter weather in the north and Midwest.
The past few years haven’t been kind to the arc of success at the Fair Grounds. The problems have been written about, commented on, and repeated in this space, so I won’t continue the drumbeat. Instead, I’ll focus on the positive, the future and what I’m thankful for in the horse racing realm.
I’m thankful Louisiana has elected officials like Rep. Helena Moreno and Rep. Patrick Connick, who understand the value a landmark like the New Orleans Fair Grounds brings to our state and are not afraid to ruffle some feathers in order to fight for their constituents and racing fans.
I’m thankful that horse rescue, retirement and re-training of horses has finally come to the forefront in horse racing because of the work of groups like Louisiana Horse Rescue Association and the Thoroughbred Charities of America — two charities that do good work for good horses. This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart, and I encourage other fans and handicappers to recognize and donate a portion of winnings to your favorite horse rescue group.
I’m thankful to see a turf race at the Fair Grounds rather than an off the turf five-horse chalk fest when the only rain I can see is in the forecast and not falling from the sky.
I’m thankful to be able to go outside on the track apron and watch the races either with my own failing two eyes or by catching the action on the new video screen adorning the infield.
I’m thankful that the discussion of limiting race day medication for horses has not yet evolved into an argument typical of Washington politicians. The Louisiana Racing Commission is taking some bold steps to adopt national uniform rules for the use of legal race day medication and banning all other drugs.
I’m thankful someone had the wisdom or the brief lack of parental experience that led them to expose a 13-year-old kid to the sport of kings at the Fair Grounds, which subsequently has produced so many fulfilling moments with my father, my mom, my brother, my wife and my sons at the racetrack.
I’m thankful to the racing gods and goddesses for bestowing upon me unfathomable luck allowing me to win the National Handicapping Championship, not for the money, but for the experience of meeting so many smart, dedicated and wonderful people in the horse racing industry.
Most of all, on the horse racing side, I’m thankful the historic New Orleans Fair Grounds has provided my family and friends with so many great racing and personal memories.
I’m looking forward to making a few more memories this year and beyond.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.