Local trainer Al Stall Jr. spoke out strongly against purse decreases during the 2013-14 thoroughbred racing season.
Now that the Fair Grounds, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., has announced a 10 percent increase in overnight purses for the rest of this season, the 143rd at the Gentilly track, Stall expects the racing community to rejoice.
“We’re happy,” he said Thursday. “It’s a direct result of more racing on the grass. The Churchill (Downs) guys fixed the turf course like they said they would. It paid off. Well done on everybody’s part.”
The increase in purses is tied to an increase in parimutuel handle and increased slots and video poker revenue in 2015, track officials said. Purse increases go into effect Saturday.
The Fair Grounds is running up to the Louisiana Derby Day, set for March 28.
“The improvements ... have had the consequence that we hoped for,” said Bob Wright, chairman of the Louisiana Racing Association. “It’s more activity out there than they had before, and I think it’s in direct response to their effort to improving the situation out there. It’s paying off. I’ve heard even the food, the service is so much better than before.”
Last year, the Fair Grounds announced a decline in purses for the fifth consecutive season, with the 2013-14 purses affected by $2.7 million held in escrow until the resolution of a lawsuit brought by a group of quarterhorsemen that believes they are owed video poker revenue dating to 2008.
New Orleans’ mild winters have allowed the Fair Grounds to attract scores of jockeys, trainers and groomsmen. Yet a national decrease in betting, coupled with local complaints of declining facilities — including drainage issues on the track’s turf course — threatened further financial damage, sending more horsemen and patrons to other sites, from Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream Park in Florida and Delta Downs in Vinton.
Stall said the increase in purses will have an immediate impact. He has 48 horses stationed at the Fair Grounds.
“With the changes they’ve made during the offseason, the horse racing community responded in kind,” he said.
“That’s how this game works.”