09/24/2008 12:00AM

Stakes schedule tweaked for early meet opening

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Fair Grounds Race Course released its 2008-2009 stakes schedule on Wednesday comprising 63 stakes worth more than $6.6 million. The schedule makes no major changes from last year, but had to be slightly reconstituted to accommodate Fair Grounds' earlier opening this year.

The meet climaxes this season on March 14, Louisiana Derby Day. Besides the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, the March 14 card will include the Fair Grounds Oaks, the New Orleans Handicap, and the Mervin Muniz, all Grade 2 races, plus two additional stakes.

Louisiana Derby Preview Day, featuring the Risen Star and the Silverbulletday, is scheduled for Feb. 7. Road to the Derby Kickoff Day, which launches the Fair Grounds two-turn stakes series for 3-year-old colts and fillies, is Jan 10. Louisiana Champions Day falls on Dec. 13; the Nov. 14 meet opening will give more Louisiana-breds a chance for a Champion's Day prep over the track.

This year's opening comes 13 days earlier than usual, and five stakes were added to the calendar before the traditional opening-day stakes, the Thanksgiving Handicap. All the early-meet stakes are worth $60,000: three of them, the Si Cima, the Blushing K.D., and the Mr. Sulu, are new races; the Pontalba and the Old Hickory return after an absence of seven years. On the other end of the meet, the Ladies Sprint and the Classic were dropped from the closing-weekend Louisiana Lagniappe races. Also dropped from last season's stakes schedule were the Bedanken and the Grindstone, grass races for 3-year-old fillies and colts, respectively.