06/25/2013 4:19PM

Fair Grounds tells of turf course measures


Fair Grounds on Tuesday began seeding its turf course with a tougher strain of Bermuda grass in an effort to rebuild the surface that had difficulty drying out during a particularly wet New Orleans meet that ended March 31.

The process is part of a restoration plan recommended by surface expert Mick Peterson, who has been assessing the local course, said Eric Halstrom, vice president and general manager of Fair Grounds.

Fair Grounds officials updated the Louisiana Racing Commission on the status of the course at its meeting Monday.

“This was a tough year on the turf course, and everyone knows it,” Halstrom said Tuesday. “The good news is the turf course is not beyond repair by any means. There were things that were out of our control last year, namely the weather. We did some study of rainfall in New Orleans the last 25 years, and last year was historically significant in a bad way.”

Halstrom said Fair Grounds received almost the identical amount of rain as 1997, the years being the worst for precipitation in the last quarter-century. The inclement weather contributed to sediment buildup over the inner five feet of the turf course.

“Over time, a lot of material washed down there, and it became very soft and mucky,” Halstrom said. “It wasn’t conducive to drying out.”

Halstrom said that under Peterson’s recommendation about a 1 1/2-inch layer of the sediment was scraped from the area and removed. Beach sand was then laid in on the inside five feet for its absorbent nature. Peterson then recommended seeding Celebration Bermuda as opposed to regular Bermuda because it’s a “more robust Bermuda seed, with a strong, tough root system,” Halstrom said.

“We’re in planting mode right now,” he said. “We scraped off the inside five feet, and the course looks like a field that’s ready to be planted. The good news is it’s easy to grow grass in New Orleans with the heat and humidity, and we’re ahead of schedule.”

Halstrom said Fair Grounds will place some limitations on turf racing for the next Thoroughbred meet that opens Nov. 22, a few days earlier than the traditional Thanksgiving opening due to the way the calendar falls in 2013.

“It’s within our control to use the turf course judiciously, and at this point Fair Grounds will reserve the course for the best horses,” Halstrom said. “That doesn’t mean only stakes horses. It means instead of writing four turf races a day we’ll use two, and the ones that go will be the higher-class races. We’ll see how it goes. We still have to fill races, too, but we plan to cut the turf racing in some manner.”

Halstrom said the turf restoration project cost was in the “low six figures.”