08/17/2008 11:00PM

Quarter Horses start first meet


NEW ORLEANS - After 136 years of Thoroughbred racing, the Fair Grounds is getting into the Quarter Horse business and will hold a five-day meet this Wednesday through Sunday.

With purse payouts to the Quarter Horse industry mandated in the bill that brought slot machines to the Fair Grounds in September 2007, the track will run 10 races a day and pay out more than $810,000 in purses.

There are five scheduled stakes races, with the City Park Stakes on opening day, three on Saturday, and one scheduled for the last day of the meet. All of the stakes will be contested for $40,000, at distances ranging from 330 to 870 yards.

Randy Soth, the outgoing president of Fair Grounds, will preside as racing secretary, though most of the day-to-day operations of the meet will be handled by assistant general manager Ed Fenaci.

Racing will start at 3 p.m. Central and end at 7 p.m.

"With the late post, we will be a bridge product between daytime and evening racing." Soth said. "We are sending the signal out nationally to all the venues that can accept wagering on Quarter Horses."

The cards were drawn last week, and horsemen can send only horses entered into races to New Orleans. The stable area opened Friday, though many horsemen expect to send horses in the day before or the day of their scheduled races.

Most of the horses and connections will be arriving from Delta Downs, one of the three regular homes of Louisiana Quarter Horse racing, and include the some of the most successful Quarter Horse trainers in the state.

The largest strings belong to Kenneth Roberts Sr. and Ray Robbins, who have each entered 15 horses.

While the Fair Grounds has run occasional Quarter Horse races as part of its Louisiana Champions Day, there has never been a meet at Fair Grounds exclusively for the breed.

The Fair Grounds has conducted a direct mail and marketing campaign to its regular customer base and projects to have a longer Quarter Horse season in coming years.

"As we earn more purse money from the slot revenue, we'll have more days," Fenaci said. "We are projecting 10 days next year, but we won't know until the numbers from the slots have come in."