Fair Grounds ended its 2019&#45;20 season at the start of the global pandemic and begins its 2020&#45;21 meet in the heart of it. With COVID&#45;19 racing through New Orleans, Fair Grounds cut short the season seven days from completion in late March. Horses and their caretakers were stranded at the track for weeks, unable to move on to spring jurisdictions until protocols could be enacted. Eight months later, we&rsquo;re still living through this, but racing, to a great extent, has learned to live with it. Fair Grounds begins the meet as scheduled on Thanksgiving, spectator&#45;free but with a bustling backstretch and ample purse funds to support a 76&#45;day season. The meet length is shorter than usual, as the Louisiana Racing Commission earlier this year granted a request from Fair Grounds&rsquo;s parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., to trim the meet from 80 days last season. With fewer racing programs the purse money saved from the seven canceled days more than offsets purse revenue lost from the COVID&#45;related closure of the Fair Grounds casino and the chain of video poker parlors it operates. Available purse funds are higher than ever, according to racing secretary Scott Jones, and Fair Grounds starts maiden special weight purses at $47,000 hoping for a bump to $50,000 over the winter.About 1,500 of 1,830 available stalls were filled as of Monday, the empties reserved for horses still based at Churchill Downs, which ends its fall meet Sunday. Nothing earth&#45;shattering but there are some changes in whose horses occupy those stalls. Fair Grounds changed the single&#45;trainer cap on stall allotment from 50 to 44 this year, an effort, Jones said, to attract a broader array of horsemen, though that opens only 42 stalls. Chad Brown was set to occupy 25 of those with a Fair Grounds string but on Monday informed track officials he&rsquo;d changed plans and wasn&rsquo;t coming. Actual newcomers include Ignacio Correas, who was given 26 stalls; Cherie DeVaux and Austin Gustafson, who got 22; and Kelly Rubley, who has 15 stalls. Shane Wilson, who typically races at Delta Downs over the winter, has turned his focus to Fair Grounds and was allotted 40 stalls. Jones expects him to contribute considerably across various divisions, especially in lower&#45;level claimers, where Fair Grounds, facing pressure across the state from Delta, has struggled.Newcomers to the jockey colony include Angel Suarez, who has 109 winners this year, and Francisco Arrieta, who has ridden 158 winners during 2020. Nearly all the top 15 riders from last season return for this meet.Thursday&rsquo;s card, featuring a robust renewal of the Thanksgiving Classic, starts at noon Central, but standard first post is 1 p.m. The basic race week spans Thursday through Sunday though there are a host of divergences during December and February. Multi&#45;stakes programs come March 20, the Louisiana Derby card; Feb. 13, Louisiana Derby Preview Day; Jan. 16, Road to the Derby Kickoff Day; and Dec. 19, the unfortunately named Santa Super Saturday. Fair Grounds has ditched the Black Gold 5, a jackpot&#45;style wager, in favor of two traditional daily pick&#45;five wagers. The pick five, pick four, pick three, superfecta, and trifecta have a 25 percent takeout rate. Takeout on exactas and doubles is 20.5 percent, while win&#45;place&#45;show takeout is 17 percent.