04/24/2006 12:00AM

Fair Grounds dates approved

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The Louisiana State Racing Commission gave their stamp of approval to the 2006-2007 racing dates request submitted by Fair Grounds Race Course during a meeting Monday morning in New Orleans. The move was a mere formality, as the Commission was among those pushing for Churchill Downs Inc., the owner of Fair Grounds, to return racing to New Orleans after a one-year absence precipitated by Hurricane Katrina.

The Fair Grounds meet will as usual begin on Thanksgiving - Nov. 23 this year - and run through March 25. Racing will be conducted four days a week during November, December, and March, and five days a week during January and February. A stakes schedule for the meet has yet to be released, but track officials have said they hope to offer the highest daily purses ever available at Fair Grounds.

CDI only committed last week to hosting a New Orleans race meet this year, but momentum had been building in that direction for months. Repairs to the facility have quickened - a new roof on the grandstand is in place, and power to the grandstand finally was restored - but much work remains to be done both on the front-side and the backstretch, as well as to the turf and dirt courses.

The track's reopening is seen as a significant occurrence in a city still trying to get back on its feet after Katrina's monumental destruction. In fact, a Tuesday press conference in the Fair Grounds paddock will feature, among others, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, the top vote getters in last week's mayoral election, which will be decided in an upcoming runoff election.