03/28/2012 2:31PM

Fair Grounds: 18-race card makes for long day at track


NEW ORLEANS – Entire civilizations have evolved and perished in the amount of time it will take to complete the Friday racing program in New Orleans. Mountain ranges may form, glaciers melt, and stars flame out and fade into darkness between the first and last races.

Okay, not really. But the undertaking remains relatively monumental. Those tuned into Fair Grounds can enjoy and bet on a full afternoon of races – and most of an evening, as well. An 18-race marathon launches at 12:40 p.m. and concludes a little before 10 p.m. All involved will get a one-hour break between races 9 and 10.

No one here intended to host an 18-race card. But when torrential rain washed away the program on Thursday, March 22, it put Fair Grounds in a tricky spot. The track is bound by law to pay out its entire purse account, give or take a small amount, by season’s end – Sunday, in this case. Last week’s cancellation meant Fair Grounds had to find a way to move the funds that were supposed to be paid March 22 from the purse account into horsemen’s pockets.

“If we didn’t find a spot for these races, we were facing being underpaid, and that’s breaking the law,” Fair Grounds assistant general manager and vice president Eric Halstrom said.

Adding a card Wednesday, March 28, was considered, but track officials figured that on short notice, few bettors would even know Fair Grounds was racing. So, a couple of the lost races were tacked onto subsequent cards and the rest was affixed to the Friday program, which was supposed to be the final twilight race card of the season.

It will be a long day for many horsemen. Trainer Al Stall, for instance, has horses in races 2,4,12,17, and 18. And some jockeys will be accepting nearly twice their normal daily allotment of rides. Richard Eramia leads the way with mounts in the main body of 14 races.

“I talked to Richard about it, and his response was, ‘If I gotta ride all 18 of them, that’s fine. It’s just one day.’ He was not apprehensive about it at all,” said Eramia’s agent, Rick Mocklin. “Depending on how hot it is, it could be tiring. He’s expressed some concern about working horses Saturday morning. That’s what my goal will be to let him recharge then for the races over the weekend.”

Somehow, there’s not a single open allowance among the dozen-and-a-half races on the Friday card. There is, however, a Pick 18 with a 10-cent base bet and a mandatory end-of-the-day payout. If the end ever really comes.