Rain making Fair Grounds season tough

NEW ORLEANS — Saying the facility’s current meet has been “a very difficult” one, the vice president and general manager of Fair Grounds Race Course told the Louisiana Racing Commission on Monday the rain the region has received this winter has severely impacted the track’s 2012-13 racing season.

Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager of Racing Eric Halstrom reported at the LRC’s regular meeting at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans on Monday the Fair Grounds has been pelted by 22 inches of rain so far this meet, compared to the average of six inches.

The constant soaking hasn’t let the course’s turf track dry out sufficiently to allow for a full schedule of racing. Halstrom noted the Fair Grounds has had to postpone or cancel several turf races because of the weather, which has disrupted the flow of the meet. Halstrom is hopeful the weather will start cooperating and allow the facility to run the turf contests it still has scheduled.

“The rain has impacted our racing quite significantly,” Halstrom said. “We’re hoping it will dry out so we can get those races in when we do get a little bit of good weather.

“I really think we’ve just gotten beaten down, beaten down, beaten down with rain,” he added.

Members of the commission asked Halstrom about the Fair Grounds’ drainage system and whether it is sufficient enough to handle so much water. They also expressed concern with the turf situation at the course.

Halstrom said track staffers have been working steadily to improve and adjust the drainage system to make sure the weather doesn’t have as much of an impact on the Fair Grounds’ future turf races. Suggested solutions include placing more absorbent sand below the turf track.

However, despite the bad weather and its impact on the course’s current meet, Halstrom said things at the Fair Grounds are otherwise going well. He said the facility has taken in $7 million more in revenues from last year, and he noted the excitement that was triggered Saturday when 135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve posted a thrilling upset victory in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes.

Halstrom added plans for the landmark 100th running of the Louisiana Derby March 30 are going well. The Fair Grounds has added an infield festival, including numerous food trucks and a concert, to the derby’s offerings. He said marketing and sales for the big weekend have been very productive. In addition, the Louisiana Derby will be broadcast on live national television by HRTV.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we’re confident about it,” Halstrom said of Louisiana Derby Day. “Our lineup is really shaping up. Everything is going well. It’s our biggest day of the year.”

As a result, he said, “We have a lot of good positives.”

“If we’d just get dry weather, we’d all have a lot to feel good about,” he added.

In other actions concerning the Fair Grounds at Monday’s meeting: the commissioned voted to allow the facility to withdraw previously approved racing dates for Nov. 15-16, which Fair Grounds officials had set aside in hopes of hosting the American Quarter Horse Association’s prestigious Challenge Championship. The Fair Grounds bid was turned down in favor of the track at Los Alamitos, Calif., Nov. 6-9.