01/25/2013 1:36PM

Fair Grounds: Friday turf racing scrapped over slow-drying course


 NEW ORLEANS - Fair Grounds officials called off turf racing Friday because of continuing wet conditions, but remained hopeful the course would be suitable for use Saturday, when three turf stakes races are scheduled.

The Fair Grounds turf has failed to dry sufficiently even though no measureable precipitation has fallen in New Orleans since Jan. 16. The track rested the turf throughout the racing week that ended Monday, and hoped the course would be in good condition when racing resumed Thursday. But after the first turf race Thursday, jockeys expressed concerns to management about how horses were handling the course and about whether it was safe for horses and riders. Three other races scheduled for turf Thursday were switched to the main track.

“From our spot, we believe that it’s safe,” said Eric Halstrom, track vice president and general manager. “We also understand tearing up the course at this point isn’t in the best interest of anybody.”

Concerning Saturday’s turf races, including the Grade 3 Col. E.R. Bradley, Halstrom said, “We should be good to go.”

Thursday’s second race, a turf sprint, was the first race on the course since the Dixie Poker Ace on Jan. 5.

“It was very soft, which was quite surprising,” said Kerwin Clark, who rode in the Thursday race. “It was just soft. The moisture just seems to stay in there.”

Jamie Theriot, who also rode in the race, said that  “big clods” were being kicked up. “It’s soft; it’s horrible,” Theriot said. “It’s just not drying out. It’s nothing the Fair Grounds can do. It’s just not drying out.”

Though recent weather has been dry, New Orleans has experienced a wetter winter than usual. Since Jan. 1, the National Weather Service has measured 5.73 inches of rainfall at the New Orleans International Airport; since Dec. 1, 10.86 inches have fallen. Averages for those periods are 3.62 inches and 8.86 inches.

Horsemen were notified Thursday night and Friday morning that the track planned to use a helicopter to try to dry the course following training Friday, but that plan was scrapped.

On Friday morning, several jockeys, trainers and track officials walked the course before the decision came to cancel turf racing again.

“There was nothing we could do,” said Clark, who is a Jockeys’ Guild representative at the Fair Grounds. “It was Mother Nature.”