09/11/2010 2:08PM

Fair Grounds begins rich Quarter Horse meet


Fair Grounds will put on a meet as quick and powerful as a Quarter Horse Tuesday, when it opens for 10 days of racing for the breed with purses of about $200,000 a card. The season will continue to Sept. 25, and in some ways it serves as a lead-in to the $1.1 million Challenge Championship program.

Fair Grounds, the New Orleans track owned by Churchill Downs Inc., made a successful bid for the American Quarter Horse Racing Association’s traveling championship event and will host it for the first time Nov. 19.

“It’s really exciting,” said Eric Halstrom, vice president and general manager of Fair Grounds. “Churchill Downs as a company had a lot to bring to the table as far as its simulcast network and other relationships like that. And, the AQHA is bringing their national convention to New Orleans. It’s good for the city, good for both of us.”

The AQHA’s annual racing conference will run from Nov. 17-20.

The meet that opens Tuesday will be just the third Quarter Horse season run at Fair Grounds, which has conducted Thoroughbred racing since 1872. So as a new racing wrinkle in the market, Halstrom said there will be a focus on fan education this meet.

“The AQHA is sending out what they call ‘Racing Aces,’ which are handicapping experts,” he said. “They’ll be working with us, be in our in-house paddock commentary.”

Fair Grounds has five stakes during the 10-day meet, with a double for Louisiana-bred 2-year-olds set for Tuesday. The $75,000 Big Easy and the $75,000 Belle of New Orleans will each be run at 330 yards.

Other highlights of the stakes schedule include the $50,000 Fair Grounds Challenge Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 440 yards Sept. 25.

The winner of that season-ending stakes will qualify for the Grade 1, $350,000 Challenge Championship, which is the centerpiece of the Challenge Championship program Nov. 19. In all, there will be six championship races on a special Friday night card, and seven supporting stakes. The Challenge Championships will be held about a week before Fair Grounds opens its Thoroughbred meet on Nov. 25.

Admission to Fair Grounds, which operates a slots casino, is free. The track will race on a Tuesday-through-Saturday basis, with a daily first post of 12:40 p.m. Central.