08/26/2014 1:41PM

Fair Grounds says track improvements going well


Fair Grounds and its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., remain on course to fulfill promises made to Louisiana legislators and racing regulators earlier this year regarding capital investment in racing at the New Orleans track.

Fair Grounds made a presentation to the Louisiana Racing Commission at a Monday meeting in New Orleans and provided details concerning projects to improve the backstretch, repair a troubled turf-course drainage system, and increase investment in customer service and marketing for the track’s horse-racing meet.

Fair Grounds came under fire this past spring in the Louisiana House of Representatives and within the LRC for failing, both bodies said, to reinvest an appropriate amount of profit from slot machines and video poker back into racing infrastructure. The legislature suggested it could withhold the track’s racing license, and the LRC was given increased power to levy fines on Fair Grounds and CDI if the track failed to live up to commitments made last spring.

“Up to this point, Fair Grounds has stepped up and has done the things that have been asked of them,” LSRC executive director Charles Gardiner said. “It’s a work in progress, and we won’t know the final result until we get to the next meet.”

On Monday, Fair Grounds revealed plans to install two new video boards at the track, one on the infield tote board, the other above the paddock. Work also has begun to repair the turf course, which for several years has failed to properly drain. The company handling the project has started clearing the existing drainage system, track officials said at the meeting, and will soon begin work to install new pipes and perform other repairs.

This is not the first time, however, Fair Grounds has tried to upgrade a turf course some believe should be entirely replaced. Drainage work has been done in the past, and before the 2011-12 meet, the track touted its application of a new grass strain.

“The main thing that’s really going to make or break everything is the quality of work that they get done on this turf course so that it drains properly,” said Benard Chatters, president of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “I’m hopeful that it all works, but I’m somewhat reserved. I don’t want to be negative, but I just hope and pray it goes the way it’s supposed to go.”

Chatters said he has toured the Fair Grounds backstretch and seen some of the improvements the track said it’s been making.

“They’ve gone in and added dirt to the stalls and shed rows, cleaned up some rooms,” Chatters said. “I would like to say that they are working with the HBPA well.”

Fair Grounds currently is conducting a 10-day Quarter Horse meet. The 2014-15 Thoroughbred meet begins Nov. 21.