It's back! The biggest horse race in the bayou state is set for March 29, 2014. The 101st running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby will cap off another successful season at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. Derby Day ends the season's stakes program with seven stakes events worth a combined $2.28 million. The Fair Grounds' marquee event is the Louisiana Derby. It's the real deal when it comes to big time horse racing. The 2013 Louisiana Derby produced the second, third, and fifth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby (Golden Soul, Revolutionary, and Mylute, respectively), and also produced Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice. The derby will give three-year-old colts one last chance to qualify for a spot at Churchill Downs.
On the female side, The Fair Grounds Oaks (Grade II $400,000) will be held on the same day. That race has produced five of the last nine Kentucky Oaks winners. "It's a huge, huge stat that we have produced that many winners in the last decade," Brian W. Spencer, a racing analyst at the Fair Grounds, said.
A points-based qualifying system for the Kentucky Derby was put into effect for 2013 and renewed for the 2014 Derby. It includes all three major Louisiana prep races: the Grade II Louisiana Derby was installed as one of the major, final preps given the highest consideration in determining Kentucky Derby eligibility. Under the system, 3-year-old Thoroughbreds earn their way to the Kentucky Derby by earning points in select stakes. The Louisiana Derby is one of only seven races that will offer the maximum 170 points (100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth). Basically, if you finish first or second at the Louisiana Derby you'll earn a spot in Kentucky for the Super Bowl of horse racing. Third place is no guarantee but it wouldn't be a surprise either.
"The on-track experience on Louisiana Derby Day brings out the best of New Orleans with a crowd that dresses to impress and take in the top-quality racing," Spencer said. "The general enthusiasm for horse racing in New Orleans is unmatched in so many places around the country. It's a remarkable thing how people here love racing." The first race on Derby Day will be at 12:30 p.m. If you don't purchase tickets in advance you can buy general admission passes at the gate.
Last year, Revolutionary held off a late run by 19-1 long shot Mylute to win the 100th running of the Louisiana Derby. Revolutionary was a 2-to-1 favorite to win the race. A year before that, Hero of Order, a 109-to-1 long shot, shocked the horse racing world when he finished first in New Orleans.
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots is the nation's third-oldest racetrack and has been in operation since 1872. It's located in New Orleans and is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated. To go along with the horse racing setup they also operate a slot-machine gaming facility and 11 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. The first Louisiana Derby was in 1894. It was called the Crescent City Derby then. Only two Louisiana Derby winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby (Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996).
On March 14th you can check out the Starlight Racing event that kicks off at 5 p.m. A live band, The Mixed Nuts, will provide entertainment along with a DJ to what Spencer describes as a "more casual" crowd. "It's kind of a see and be seen type of event," he said.
Those who want to experience the rush of horse racing and the relaxation of golf can get involved in the Louisiana Derby Golf Tournament. The one-day event benefits the Fair Grounds' backstretch community and is scheduled for March 10 at Lakewood Country Club and Golf Course. The event will begin with registration at 11 a.m., continue with lunch at noon, and the shotgun start to the tournament will begin at 1 p.m. Registration for the event closes Saturday, March 8.
Players may sign up as a team of four ($425/team) or as individuals ($125/player), and a team scramble format will be used with a max score per hole of a bogey. Hole sponsorships are also available in two different ways - a hole sponsorship paired with a participating golfing foursome ($500) or a standalone hole sponsorship with no golfing ($150). Team handicaps and final scores will be determined by the Lakewood Golf Course Officials, and all players may purchase up to five mulligans for $5 each, or purchase all five for $20. Participation fees for all players will include 18 holes of golf, use of a cart, lunch, and a goodie bag. Designated specialty holes will also have additional prizes: Closest to the Pin, Longest Drive That Stays in the Fairway, and a Hole in One will win prizes. In addition, a raffle will be conducted that afternoon, with tickets available for purchase at $5 for five tickets. Tickets to Jazz Fest will be raffled off along with other prizes.