The $1 million Louisiana Derby is one of the biggest events in horse racing, the last stop for many thoroughbreds before they run in the Kentucky Derby in May.
It’s a big deal even in a normal year, but for Louisiana Derby’s 100th running Saturday, the Fair Grounds is celebrating with an infield festival of music, food and racing.
The Louisiana Derby Infield Festival will be the first time the green space within the track oval has been open to the public on a live racing day since the 1930s, track officials said.
“Everyone recognizes that you only get once chance at your 100th Louisiana Derby,” said Jim Mulvihill, marketing manager at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. “This is an important milestone for us historically, and we need to celebrate it for racing fans and for those in New Orleans who have supported us over the years.”
The layout of the historic Fair Grounds required the temporary additions of rolling bridges in order to allow crowds to cross the track between events without causing damage.
The ramps are on loan from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where they are used to move tens of thousands into the infield for the Triple Crown on Preakness Day.
“Most tracks that hold major events in their infields have tunnels under the track to enable the event without disrupting the racing surface,” Mulvihill said. “We’ve placed pedestrian bridges.”
The infield will take on a festival atmosphere with a fleet of food trucks providing a variety of dining options during the day.
Food trucks will serve up barbecue, crepes, yakamein, bratwurst, fish tacos, coffee, snowballs and Latin American specialties.
And, the Fair Grounds has booked musical acts Flow Tribe and Cowboy Mouth.
Fancy spring outfits, especially extravagant headgear for ladies, are typically seen in the Grandstand on Derby Day. In fact, men are asked to wear jackets or sports coats in the clubhouse, and shorts and sandals aren’t allowed there.
But fun and festive hats are encouraged everywhere on the grounds.
“The unique thing about this event is it’s not just about sport or horse racing,” Mulvihill said. “It’s also about the entertainment and the fashion and the social aspect that is always a part of horse racing at its highest level.
“Whether you’re coming for the variety of food trucks or to see your favorite band or for the chance to get dressed up, all of it is part of the formula that will make this such a special day.”
The day’s first undercard race has a post time of 1 p.m., and the race will be followed by the band Flow Tribe an hour later.
The Louisiana Derby itself will be run at 5 p.m., with the day’s events continuing all day, culminating with the Cowboy Mouth concert after the Derby is complete.
Infield Festival general admission tickets are $25, and VIP admission is $60.
Children are welcome; kids 12 and younger are admitted free.
Tickets can be purchased in advance online at www.fgno.com/tickets, and Mulvihill strongly recommends that people do so, because the infield will be sold out after 5,000 tickets are sold — and they are going fast.
“It doesn’t matter which angle you’re coming at it from,” Mulvihill said. “These big days in horse racing are unlike any others. There are sports events, music events, gambling events, food events, but nothing else offers them all in one place at the same time.”
For those who wish to view the derby from the grandstand or clubhouse, tickets are $10 and $15, respectively.
Gates open at 10:30 a.m., with access to the Infield Festival beginning at 11 a.m.