06/29/2011 12:13PM

Fair Grounds splits up Louisiana Derby and Fair Grounds Oaks on NCAA Tournament weekend

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Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans will host 60 stakes worth $7.5 million during its 2011-2012 meeting, a schedule highlighted by the $1 million Louisiana Derby on April 1, the season’s closing day. The Louisiana Derby has been moved from Saturday to Sunday to fit with college basketball’s Final Four, which will be held at the New Orleans Superdome in 2012. The tournament’s semifinal games are Saturday, the championship game Monday.

“If ever there were a time for a sports fan to make their first visit to our storied racetrack, this would be it,” the track’s vice president and general manager, Eric Halstrom, said in a press release.

The Louisiana Derby, which shares the April 1 program with six other stakes, including the New Orleans Handicap and Mervin Muniz, has been positioned eight days nearer the Kentucky Derby for 2010. This year, the Fair Grounds race was six weeks from the start of the Triple Crown.

The Fair Grounds Oaks anchors the card on Saturday, March 31, but is the only graded stakes on that program.

Fair Grounds has boosted the bottom open-stakes purse from $60,000 to $75,000, and raised the purse of the Lecomte ($100,000 to $175,000), the Silverbulletday ($100,000 to $125,000), the Rachel Alexandra ($150,000 to $200,000), and the Louisiana Handicap ($60,000 to $100,000).

Fair Grounds will host this year’s Claiming Crown event, a card of six stakes under starter allowance conditions that had been held at Canterbury Park in Minnesota all but twice since it began in 1999.

Despite adding the Claiming Crown races (Dec. 3) for the upcoming season, the number of stakes will drop from 63 to 60, but the 2011-2012 stakes will be worth about $1 million more than the 2010-2011 races. Six stakes retain their name from last season but will be contested under different conditions.

Other meet highlights are Road to the Derby Kickoff Day (six stakes on Jan. 21), and Louisiana Derby Preview Day (six stakes on Feb. 25).