Fair Grounds set to present progress report

Fair Ground Race Course & Slots officials will provide a progress report on the improvements promised to the Louisiana State Racing Commission and Louisiana Legislature at the LSRC meeting Monday morning at Monteleone Hotel.

Fears that the track has been falling into disrepair while management and ownership, Churchill Downs Inc., focused more and more of their attention on the slots side of the operation prompted organizers to make several commitments to quell the uproar from the horse-racing community.

Bob Wright, who will be announced as the new chairman of the commission Monday, said relations between the parties have improved since the spring through track officials’ efforts.

“I think they’ve made some good movement, and I like what they’re doing,” Wright said. “I’m confident that they’re going to proceed with the promises that they’ve made to us. … I’m satisfied on what they’ve done to keep us updated.”

Tim Bryant, executive director of the Fair Grounds, said track officials have been working closely with the commission, especially through the Current Affairs and Concerns of Racing Committee.

“We’ve been having discussions,” Bryant said. “We’re trying to be very transparent since the legislative session.”

Part of the conditions of the commission renewing the track’s license was that officials would give updates at public meetings like Monday’s. Also, with a couple of bills moving through this year’s legislative session that would have affected business, the track made several commitments to the Judiciary B committee, as well as to the LSRC:

1. Turf: $200,000 was allocated to improving the turf track, which had to be shut down during scheduled racing days because of drainage problems. Bryant said the Fair Grounds is “well in the process of getting work done” on the turf track.

2. Customer service: Another $200,000 was promised to replace the large video board that has been out of service for at least two years. Bryant said the boards have been ordered. Also, Bryant said, “We’ve done numerous things to enhance the customer experience not only at the Fair Grounds, but also at several of our OTB locations.” This will include more on-duty tellers for bettors.

3. Marketing: There has been speculation that promotion for the slots has come at the expense of the racing side. Wright said what he has heard of plans for marketing have relieved some of his concerns regarding this.

4. Backstretch: Bryant said, “We feel we’ve made some strides” when it comes to upgrading the horses’ stables.

Bryant said he would provide details at Monday’s meeting of where they are in the improvements they promised to these four areas, and that the Fair Grounds is on track to meet its deadline.

“We made commitments that said we would have these items done before the thoroughbred meet, which starts Nov. 21, and we’re on target to have these commitments completed by then,” Bryant said.

“We’re obviously taking this very seriously.”