08/10/2009 11:00PM

Major changes for Louisiana Derby

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The Louisiana Derby will have a bigger purse, longer distance, and a date closer to the Kentucky Derby when the longtime Fair Grounds fixture is run in 2010.

Officials at Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Fair Grounds in New Orleans, issued a media release Tuesday announcing that the Louisiana Derby will be worth $750,000, up from $600,000, when the race is run March 27, 2010, which is two weeks later than what had been customary. The 2010 date is just five weeks before the 136th Kentucky Derby, to be run May 1 at Churchill Downs. In addition, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby has been lengthened by a sixteenth of a mile to 1 1/8 miles.

The new date and distance will put the Louisiana Derby in competition with other major Derby prep races. This year the Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby was run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

The Louisiana Derby once again will be part of a blockbuster program, meaning other major Fair Grounds stakes such as the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial and the Grade 2, $500,000 New Orleans Handicap also have been moved to March 27. The 2009-10 Fair Grounds meet will run Nov. 6 to March 28.

"Our racing staff is embarking on a new historic direction for the entire stakes schedule," Eric Halstrom, Fair Grounds vice president and general manager, said in the release.

Fair Grounds also has added a new filly-mare dirt stakes, to be run Dec. 19, which comes six weeks after the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup. The 1 1/8-mile race tentatively will be worth $100,000, although Halstrom said the purse could increase substantially if superstars Rachel Alexandra and/or Zenyatta were enticed to run.

"It gives all parties involved something to consider and opens the door for further discussions," said Halstrom.