09/05/2011 2:26PM

Fair Grounds: Quarter Horse meet kicks off with Treme

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Fair Grounds in New Orleans will pack nine stakes into a 12-date Quarter Horse meet that opens Wednesday with the $40,000 Treme. The season will continue through Sept. 24.

The Treme kick-starts a $580,000 stakes program that hits its peak on closing day, with the running of the $290,000-estimated Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders’ Association Sales Futurity. It is the richest race of the meet and will anchor a program of four stakes, including the $50,000 LQHBA Sales Invitational. Other offerings on the card will include the $30,000 Fair Grounds Bonus Challenge, a 350-yard race for 3-year-olds and up that serves as a qualifier for the Challenge Championship program at Los Alamitos on Oct. 29.

Fair Grounds has projected overnight purses will average $120,000 per card this meet, which is the track’s fourth season of racing for Quarter Horses. The purses have helped attract a strong riding colony, with Alfonso Lujan defending his title against one of the nation’s top jockeys, J.R. Ramirez as well as past Fair Grounds champions Gilbert Ortiz and John Hamilton.

Among trainers, Heath Taylor, Janet VanBebber, Anthony Arey, and Bobby Martinez will take on defending champ Kenneth Roberts Sr. And no outfit will have more runners at Fair Grounds this meet than Roberts. As soon as the stable area opened in late August, the 59-year-old trainer moved 36 horses onto the grounds in New Orleans.

“With the majority of [horses], it’s better if they get a chance to adjust,” he said.

Roberts will come out running opening week. He will saddle the promising Bang Bang Bang in the Treme, a 350-yard race for 3-year-olds bred in Louisiana. The filly has won 4 of 7 starts and will be seeking her first stakes score against a field of mostly males led by Grade 2 winner Eyesa Flash. The Treme also drew Jess Like Alabama, who will be seeking his sixth consecutive win Wednesday. In his most recent start, Jess Like Alabama won the Grade 3 Vinton Stakes at Delta Downs on July 3.

Roberts also will be active in all 12 trials for the LQHBA Sales Futurity on Friday. There are a total of 106 horses attempting to qualify for the 350-yard finale, which is restricted to 2-year-olds bred in Louisiana.

◗ Dave Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, was approved as an association steward for the Quarter Horse season at Fair Grounds during a recent meeting of the Louisiana Racing Commission.