11/18/2006 1:00AM

Fair Grounds to open with bang


NEW ORLEANS - In its best years, Fair Grounds Race Course grew its simulcast signal through the presentation of big, bettable fields, and opening day of the 2006-2007 meet harks back to that era, with 103 horses entered on Saturday for Thursday's opening-day program.

The big fields, of course, are an added bonus: the city of New Orleans, Louisiana horsemen, and Churchill Downs Inc., Fair Grounds's owner, are just happy to be back in action. Racing last was conducted at Fair Grounds in March 2005, and last year's meet had to be moved across the state to Louisiana Downs after Hurricane Katrina devastated both city and racetrack. But workers have steadily put Fair Grounds back together again; horses were back at the track several weeks ago, and racing resumes on Thanksgiving.

Those 103 horses work out to an average of better than 10 per race on the 10-race card, and based on Saturday's training activity, the near term holds more of the same. All told, 144 horses had timed works Saturday, including 83 that worked a half-mile, and heavy worktabs tend to bode well for future race cards. Thursday's program is highlighted by the Thanksgiving Day Handicap, a $75,000 sprint stakes that drew a well-matched field of 10.