01/13/2010 12:00AM

Friday night races get going


The lights around the racetrack at Fair Grounds will get a rare nighttime workout Friday, when the New Orleans track hosts the first of three evening programs scheduled for the meet.

First post for Friday's nine-race card is 5 p.m. Fair Grounds regularly uses its lights during early-morning training and at the end of mid-winter cards that run late. But Friday's experience will be something different, both in terms of the quality of light, and, the track hopes, in terms of customers.

In a press release, Fair Grounds billed its evening card as "a new, upscale racing experience." Much like Churchill Downs, which successfully inaugurated night racing during the summer of 2009, Fair Grounds hopes to draw to the track a younger demographic and attract casual fans who don't typically attend the races. To help lure them, a live band will perform in the clubhouse. At track level, Fair Grounds will erect a beer-garden style tent. Admission to the clubhouse is $10, with access to the beer garden $5.

Fair Grounds erected lights about 20 years ago, and used to start programs at 3 p.m., but this will be the track's first effort at true night racing. Since the lights are designed to illuminate the main track, the program's only turf event is carded as race 1.

One horse in the featured eighth race, Dumars, is familiar with the nighttime scene, having made his most recent start at Delta Downs. Dumars was one of eight horses entered in a second-level route allowance race also open to $40,000 claimers that should have Flying Pegasus as a favorite.

Flying Pegasus, a Jim Spence homebred trained by Ralph Nicks, is long on talent, but short on soundness: At age 4, he has made only seven starts in his career. Second in the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont in 2008, and second in the Risen Star Stakes last spring, he didn't race again until February. Flying Pegasus returned from the third layoff of his career with a third-place finish Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds. The colt moved into a hot pace and took the lead at the stretch call that day, and could easily move forward and break into the win column Friday night. But given his history, skepticism is warranted.

The horse who finished one spot in front of him last out, Country Flavor, has run well in all four of his starts since being gelded, and Country Flavor should offer better odds than Flying Pegasus. And as for the nighttime program -no worries.

"That shouldn't bother him," said trainer Greg Geier. "He gallops under lights every morning."