11/21/2011 4:34PM

Fair Grounds: Entries for first two days portend strong meet


NEW ORLEANS – Two days does not a successful race meeting make, but looking at the number of horses entered for Friday’s Day 2 of the 2011-2012 Fair Grounds meet is enough to put one in a hopeful mood.

“I think it’s a pretty good card,” Jason Boulet said of Friday’s 11-race program at Fair Grounds, and though Boulet, as the Fair Grounds racing secretary, is paid to keep the faith, his assessment hits the mark.

First, there are sheer numbers – 121 horses entered on an 11-race program. Eleven horses per race would make any racing official turn cartwheels, and while no one in New Orleans is forecasting that kind of turnout on a daily basis, Boulet is hopeful of surpassing the 8.8 starters per race Fair Grounds averaged during its 2010-2011 meeting, a decline from the nine-plus starters per race the track averaged the year before.

“I’d like to get back up over nine again,” said Boulet.

Drawing its programs early, Fair Grounds was two days into its meet as of Monday while still three days away from Thursday’s opening card. That program was drawn Saturday, with Friday’s races assembled on Sunday.

Ten Thanksgiving Day races drew 109 entrants, another healthy total, though there are a few seven-horse fields tossed into the mix, something Boulet will have to contend with all year. Fair Grounds committed last season to decreasing the number of Louisiana-bred races it was running (the total went from 43 percent in 2009-2010 to 35 percent last year) while letting more open races onto programs even with fields shorter than desirable.

“That’s our stated objective, to let those races go,” said Eric Halstrom, Fair Grounds vice president and general manager.

The open races become easier to fill during December, after Kentucky-based outfits still at the Churchill fall meet set up shop here and start running in earnest. Fair Grounds expects about 300 more Kentucky-based horses to arrive within the next few weeks.

Some trainers of national rather than regional repute already are ready to roll. Al Stall has horses in five races opening day and in three more Friday, including J.B.’s Thunder, who was one of nine horses entered in the Friday feature, the $75,000 Woodchopper for 3-year-old grass horses. J. B.’s Thunder was based at Fair Grounds last season, too, but never started here owing to physical issues. Two decent races into his 2011 comeback, J.B.’s Thunder might be primed for a winning performance against the likes of Suntracer and Christophe Clement-trained shipper Adirondack Summer.

Stall also has a horse, second-time-starter Flat Out Foxy, in Friday’s sixth race, a 2-year-old maiden special weight that brings out the first Larry Jones-trained runners of the meeting. Jones, who has first-time starters Teeny Liz and Ashcraft Silver in the race, hasn’t been based at Fair Grounds since the 2008-2009 season, when his 17 victories included wins in four graded stakes. His presence this winter should help Boulet ensure some of those open races make it onto cards.