NEW ORLEANS—The Louisiana Derby will be worth $1 million when it is run at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the 98th time on March 26, 2011.
The $250,000 increase will make it the richest Thoroughbred horse race ever run in New Orleans and the first such race worth seven figures.
The Louisiana Derby, a Grade II race contested at 1 1/8 miles over Fair Grounds' storied main track, is among the nation's premier events for 3-year-olds preparing to make their next start in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
"Our goal is to make the Louisiana Derby the number one Kentucky Derby prep race and a $1 million purse puts us on par with any of them," said Fair Grounds Vice President & General Manager Eric Halstrom. "When you consider the nice monthly progression of our 3-year-old stakes series, comprised of three graded races that can help a horse accrue the earnings they need to make the Kentucky Derby, along with the reputation of our main track as a forgiving surface that gets horses exceptionally fit, there's no better place to get a promising 3-year-old ready for the Triple Crown."
Halstrom added: "I'm especially pleased that we were able to substantially boost the Louisiana Derby purse to this historic level without impacting any of the money committed to our hefty overnight purses."
The Louisiana Derby brings the number of million-dollar races in North America, not including the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup World Championships, to 12 (there will now be 28 including those events). Outside of the Triple Crown series, 2011 will likely see six million-dollar stakes for 3-year-olds, only two of which traditionally serve as springtime Kentucky Derby prep races (the Louisiana Derby and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park).
"The Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race in the world and our most important asset at Churchill Downs Incorporated," said CDI Vice President of Racing Donald R. Richardson. "As a company it is important to build awareness around the key races and horses that lead to a historic 'Run for the Roses.' If the Kentucky Derby is our sport's Super Bowl, then the Louisiana Derby should be our must-see conference championship game."
The 2010 Louisiana Derby, won by Mission Impazible, has proven to be the deepest of this spring's Kentucky Derby prep races. The Louisiana Derby superfecta was rounded out by runner-up A Little Warm, winner of last month's prestigious Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga; third-place finisher Drosselmeyer, the eventual Belmont Stakes winner; and fourth-place finisher Discreetly Mine, the top 3-year-old sprinter in North America after a powerful win in Saratoga's Amsterdam Stakes. The stellar field of 13 also included eventual Dwyer Stakes winner and Belmont runner-up Fly Down; Woodbine's Wando Stakes winner and eventual $1 million Queen's Plate morning line favorite Hotep; and Arlington Park's Grade II American Derby runner-up Mister Marti Gras. Every Louisiana Derby starter that remained in training has since won a race.
"A Louisiana Derby purse boost will make it easier for the top few finishers to amass the graded earnings they need to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby," Richardson added. "This year it took more than $225,000 in graded earnings to be in the Kentucky Derby field, the highest cutoff ever. Next year I believe horsemen are going to be more careful about choosing to run only in the richest graded events."
Fair Grounds Oaks Back to Louisiana Derby Day
The Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, a race that has been won by the eventual Kentucky Oaks heroine in four of its last six runnings, will move back to Louisiana Derby Day, a Saturday, after a one-year stint anchoring Friday's stakes extravaganza the day before. This year's Louisiana Derby Day on March 26 will feature six open-company stakes worth at least six figures, including four of Fair Grounds' five Grade II events: the Louisiana Derby, the Fair Grounds Oaks, the New Orleans Handicap and the Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap.
The Friday of Louisiana Derby Week will still feature a stakes extravaganza, but this year's program will instead showcase Louisiana-breds. Five races for horses bred in the Bayou State will be run on March 25.
Ten Graded Stakes
The Fair Grounds Stakes Schedule includes 10 graded stakes five Grade II and five Grade III. In addition to the four graded stakes on the final Saturday of the meet, the Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 19 also is a Grade II. The Grade III stakes are the Lecomte for 3-year-olds, the Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies, the Mineshaft Handicap for older horses, and both the Fair Grounds Handicap and the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap for older turf horses.
Five Stakes Eliminated
Five stakes races that appeared on last season's schedule have been discontinued, primarily because those editions produced small fields. The eliminated stakes are the Daily Racing Form Distaff (fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles, five starters last season), the Furl Sail Handicap (fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, replaced by the Blushing K.D. Handicap with identical conditions), the Old Hickory Stakes (2-year-olds at six furlongs, four starters last season), the Pontalba Stakes (2-year-old fillies at six furlongs, four starters last season) and the Si Cima Stakes (Louisiana-bred fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, cancelled last season due to insufficient entries).
"The only people that like to see short fields are the connections of the favorites," said Fair Grounds Racing Secretary Jason Boulet. "With our season starting three weeks later this year, on Thanksgiving Day instead of the first weekend of November, we had an opportunity to make these adjustments while still featuring quality stakes racing every single week. It creates a better product overall when we can shift money to more competitive races."
The only race to see its purse reduced from last season is the New Orleans Ladies. Initially created to attract Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, the 1 1/16-mile contest for fillies and mares will be worth $100,000 in 2011, down from $200,000 for the inaugural running.
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the nation's third-oldest racetrack, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 10 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. Fair Grounds will host its third annual Quarter Horse Racing Season Sept. 14-25 as well as Quarter Horse racing's championship night, the Bank of America Challenge Championships, Nov. 19. The 139th Thoroughbred Racing Season will run Nov. 25, 2010-March 27, 2011, highlighted by the 98th Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 26. Information about Fair Grounds can be found online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com.