11/16/2016 2:36PM

Fair Grounds hopes early business is as strong as entries

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Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography
Fair Grounds has 105 horses entered for the 10 races on Saturday's opening-day card.

Entries for race cards in Louisiana have been taken a week or more before the actual races for more than a year now. The system’s been in place long enough now that no one really has cause to notice it – except at the start of a meet. Fair Grounds begins its 2016-17 season Saturday, and entries for that card will have been out for eight days when they get around to running it.

There are a lot of horses, too, 105 for the 10 races, which include three Louisiana-bred $50,000 stakes. Sunday’s program also has been drawn, with a total of 90 horses entered in the nine races. And there are hints the pace of entries could be strong even after these first two cards – 257 horses posted workouts last Saturday.

This Saturday’s card, one of just two during opening week, begins at 3 p.m. Central, while the 2015-16 meet started with a Friday night card. Fair Grounds continues to cast about for the best way to launch its racing season, and this is the latest tack.

State law requires that Fair Grounds hosts 80 cards during its season, and there’s no obvious best way to fit those cards into a window from mid-November to the first of April. Five-day race weeks tax horse populations and have become the exception at most venues, and to spread the race days over a wider period, Fair Grounds in 2008 started racing before its traditional Thanksgiving opener. But business has been poor during November regardless of how Fair Grounds has arranged its pre-Thanksgiving races. This year’s model is another attempt to start things on a steadier path.

“We’ve tried to get out there, but there’s just a natural instinct that Fair Grounds opens Thanksgiving Day,” track president Tim Bryant said.

Maybe this year’s change will be for the better. The week-out entry schedule that began at Fair Grounds a year ago has turned out better than many horsemen anticipated.

“When they started it there were a lot of skeptical people, myself included, but it’s been a plus,” trainer Mike Stidham said. “I think it’s actually easier for training and veterinary work.”