Gerald Ross’ Derby Day outfit bespoke of his love of the Saints: a No. 12 Marques Colston jersey.
But when it came to putting his money down at the Fair Grounds on Saturday, the New Orleans resident went not with heart but with his head: unbeaten favorite Nyquist instead of the Tom and Gayle Benson-owned duo of Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready.
And Ross is glad he did, not only hitting the winner put having Exaggerator and Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner in a trifecta that paid $43.35 Saturday, making at least one Black & Gold fan at the local off-track betting facility happy.
“Nyquist came through for me,” said Ross, who did have the Benson entries in his wheel. “I’d have made more if Benson’s horses had done better, but they didn’t.
“I’ll always be a Saints fan, and I hope Mr. Benson stays in the horse business. But I needed the money today more than he did.”
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So it went Saturday where the combination of the Saints/Pelcians owners having two horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby in their first years as owners. And the Fair Grounds’ OTB not being closed on Derby Day because of Jazz Fest for the first time in 11 years brought out a far larger group of patrons than the Gentilly facility’s usual off-season days.
So much, in fact, that capacity was more than doubled from the usual weekend accomadations. There were a private parties held in two of the dining rooms as well.
“This was very good day for us,” Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant said. “This doesn’t happen very often, and I felt like we were able to take showcase it on our busiest days at our other OTBs.
“And we had a lot of fans taking advantage of it, too, both our regulars and lot of people who don’t get out there as often. It would have been nice to if Gun Runner or one of our other horses had won, but people still came out on Derby Day and had fun.”
While no exact figures were available, Bryant said indications were that Mo Tom (who finished eighth) and Tom’s Ready (12th) drew more action at the Fair Grounds and the track’s 11 other OTBs that they did nationally. But it certainly wasn’t enough to move the needle off them being 20-1 and 30-1 long shots.
“You’ve gotta put them in there, especially Mo Tom,” said Alvin Maney Baton Rouge, who, with his friend Tony Lentini came skipped his usual Derby Day visit to the Laplace OTB to take advantage of the Fair Grounds being open.
“But you don’t have to be crazy about it. It’s not like Drew Brees is riding him.”
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Ossie McCorkle of New Orleans, one of a group of 10 fans who usually go to the Kenner OTB on Derby Day, also said she felt sentiment toward the Benson horses — but not enough to make a big financial commitment.
“I come to the Fair Grounds too much already,” she said. “I’m going to put a little money on them (Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready) even though they might not do anything.
“What I really wish was the Saints were doing better.”
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But others weren’t letting their Who Dat allegiances sway them.
Tammy Duffourc of Marrero favored Gun Runner, while her mother June Duffourc, was an Exaggerator fan.
Neither had any money on the Benson horses.
“I liked them here at the Fair Grounds,” Tammy Duffourc said. “But this was too much a step up for them on a bigger stage.”
June Duffourc said she was an Exaggerator fan because of the Louisiana connection: brothers Keith and Kent Desormeaux of Maurice, only the third sibling combination of trainer and jockey in the Derby’s 142-year history.
“I really like the idea of brothers racing together,” she said. “It would have been a nice story if they had won.
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The Duffourcs weren’t the only mother-daughter in attendance on Mother’s Day eve.
Former New Orleans resident Ally Knowles of Starkville, Mississippi, and her mom, Angela White of West Point, Mississippi, were visiting relatives and decided to make an afternoon of it.
Knowles proclaimed herself a loyal Saints fan but bet Nyquist.
“I don’t feel bad about it at all,” she said.
White had her money on the Bensons horses, albeit in a $3 trifecta, so it didn’t hurt her pocketbook too much.
“It’s Mother’s Day, so I’ll definitely give her some of my winnings,” Knowles said. “She was betting for Louisiana.”
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The rarity of the Fair Grounds being open on Derby Day even brought out non-locals.
Charles Clark of Kingsport, Tennessee, said he has attended the Derby 44 times, including last year to see American Pharoah win for his friend, trainer Bob Baffert.
But business had Clark and his wife, Ann, in Baton Rouge this week, so they decided to the next best thing. They even came attired in Derby-worthy outfits.
“This is what we wore last year,” said Charles Clark, who put his money on Nyquist. “So it brought us good luck again.
“Wherever you watch the Derby, it’s a good experience. If we couldn’t be there, at least we were here enjoying it with everyone else.”