Some know it as New Orleans Fair Grounds, but its actual name is Fair Grounds Race Course. Located in New Orleans, Louisiana, the site hosted some of America’s first racing, dating back to 1838 when it was known as the Louisiana Race Course. Its history is an integral part of the state’s culture, and it has adapted to modern times with the addition of casino games.
The third-oldest horse racing track in North America, Fair Grounds’ history dates back to 1838, though it wasn’t formally established as a racing venue until 1872. Its place in horse-racing history is storied, complete with bumps and bruises due to hurricanes, wars, and a pandemic. Fair Grounds always bounces back and retains its status and importance in the racing industry.
The property, located just minutes from the French Quarter, sits on 145 acres of land.
Fair Grounds has endured multiple disasters. A December 1993 fire destroyed the grandstand, though it reopened four years later with a new grandstand and clubhouse facility spanning 217,000 square feet with a neighboring simulcast wagering facility. Less than a decade later, in August 2005, months of repairs were required following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Churchill Downs Incorporated acquired the track in October 2004 and enlarged it with a slot machine gaming facility four years later.
That acquisition also involved Churchill Downs taking control of Finish Line Off-Track Betting locations, now a network operated by Fair Grounds OTB and Casino. The network includes simulcast wagering locations from Chalmette to Thibodaux, many of which also offer video poker.
Racing is offered at Fair Grounds from mid-November through late March. Track features include Thanksgiving Day racing and Starlight and Twilight Racing events. Fair Grounds celebrated its 148th season of thoroughbred racing in 2019-2020.
The facilities are also used for events outside of racing, including weddings, live bands, and the renowned New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In August, alongside the annual quarter horse meet, exotic racing features animals like ostriches, camels, and zebras.
Fans can access online betting on a multitude of races around the country via TwinSpires, offered through Churchill Downs. This provides yearlong online wagering opportunities for horse racing enthusiasts.
Fair Grounds’ main track is a one-mile (1.6 kilometer) oval dirt track with the distance from the last turn to the finish line measured at 1,346 feet.
The inside turf track, installed in 1981, is seven furlongs.
The Louisiana Derby is perhaps the best known of the stakes races at Fair Grounds, and is a prep race for the Kentucky Derby. The Grade II thoroughbred race is annually set for late March and features 3-year-old horses competing for a $1 million purse over 1 3/16 mile on the dirt track.
The Louisiana Derby has the longest history at Fair Grounds, first run in 1894 as the Crescent City Derby. The distance has changed multiple times through the years, from the original 1 1/8 mile to 1 1/16 in 1989, returning to 1 1/8 in 2009, and expanding to 1 3/16 in 2020.
Two horses have won the Louisiana Derby and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996. Master Derby took a 1975 Louisiana Derby victory and won the Preakness Stakes the same year. In 1988, Risen Star won the Louisiana Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Fair Grounds Oaks is a well-known 1 1/16-mile race (8.5 furlongs) featured on the dirt track. Three-year-old thoroughbred fillies race for a $400,000 purse in prep for the Triple Tiara of Thoroughbred Racing – Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, and Mother Goose Stakes.
The Fair Grounds Oaks, first run in 1966, became a graded race in 1982 and a Grade II in 2000. Numerous horses have won and gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks.
|Grade I Stakes||Grade II Stakes||Grade III Stakes|
|None||Fair Grounds Oaks||Fair Grounds Stakes|
|LA Champions Day QH Juvenile Stakes||LA Champions Day QH Derby|
|LA Champions Day QH Classic||Lecomte Stakes|
|Louisiana Derby||Mineshaft Stakes|
|Muniz Memorial Classic|
|New Orleans Classic|
|Rachel Alexandra Stakes|
|Risen Star Stakes|
|Belmont Park||Churchill Downs||Saratoga Racecourse||Monmouth Park||Arlington International Racecourse|
|Pimlico Race Course||Keeneland Race Course||Santa Anita Park||Oaklawn Racing||Fair Grounds Race Course|
The history of Fair Grounds dates back to long before the first official meets were organized at the track.
A group of horse enthusiasts organized the first event at the Louisiana Race Course, held April 10, 1838. The first race was the Creole Purse, offering a $1,000 purse, and was free for horses bred and owned in Louisiana.
The track struggled with stability over the years, closing and reopening multiple times. In 1852, it opened as the Union Race Course only to close again soon after. Ownership changes followed, as did name changes, including the Creole Race Course and, ultimately, Fair Grounds in 1863.
The formal establishment of Fair Grounds as a North American race course didn’t happen until 1872, a year following the formation of the Louisiana Jockey Club.
In 1892, the Crescent City Jockey Club organized its first winter racing season, which was held for several years. Racing, however, was banned in New Orleans in 1908 before being reinstated seven years later. Community interest in the sport continued to grow, so much so that when a 1919 fire destroyed the grandstand, the races went on as planned.
By 1940, Louisiana lawmakers decided to formalize racing and support the industry. By that time, Fair Grounds had been sold to developers looking to build a subdivision, but a group of investors purchased the track in 1941 and racing resumed at the conclusion of World War II.
The Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame was established in 1971, followed by the installation of the turf track a decade later. In 1990, the Krantz family bought the facilities, and, following a 1993 grandstand fire, financed a $27 million reconstruction and expansion project. A new grandstand was built along with a clubhouse and other amenities, all of which opened to the public on Thanksgiving Day in 1997.
Churchill Downs acquired the track in 2004 and rebuilt the property following the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2007, a temporary gaming building opened until the new facility, boasting capacity for more than 700 games, opened in November 2008.