Every winter, Fair Grounds hosts one of the most competitive race meets in the country. Deep fields are par for the course at the New Orleans oval, with a rich stakes schedule highlighting the elite racing action.

Planning to bet on Fair Grounds this winter? Here are three handicapping trends to keep in mind:

Speed is dominant in 6-furlong dirt sprints

With a long homestretch measuring 1,346 feet, you might assume late runners hold an advantage at Fair Grounds. But this definitely isn’t the case in 6-furlong sprints over the main track. According to statistics from Brisnet, horses with “E” (Early) running styles won 44% of 6-furlong dirt sprints during the 2019-20 Fair Grounds meet, while “E/P” (Early/Presser) types accounted for another 26%.

Furthermore, the average winner raced within two lengths of the lead during the opening quarter-mile, advancing to about 1 1/4 lengths from the lead at the quarter pole. The takeaway? It pays to have tactical speed when dashing 6 furlongs over the Fair Grounds dirt, and betting accordingly will guide you toward winning wagers.

Turf races are frequently transferred to the main track

When heavy rain strikes Fair Grounds, turf races are typically switched to the main track, sometimes for days at a time. Off-the-turf racing is part of the sport’s fabric at Fair Grounds.

As a result, handicappers should keep the weather in mind when planning their bets. Watch the weather forecasts to see if rain is in the offing. If it looks like grass races will be transferred to the main track, try to project which horses will appreciate the switch, or hold off analyzing the entries until race day comes and you can see which runners withdraw. By developing contingency plans beforehand, you’ll avoid hurriedly restructuring your bets on race day.

Longshots often surprise in Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races

Each year, Fair Grounds hosts a trio of high-profile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races—the Lecomte (G3), the Risen Star (G2), and the Louisiana Derby (G2). All three events tend to draw deep and competitive fields, so upset winners frequently steal the show.

The Risen Star is a perfect example. Just two favorites have prevailed over the last decade, a timeframe famous for producing double-digit winners Ive Struck a Nerve (135-1 in 2013), Bravazo (21-1 in 2018), and Modernist (12-1 in 2020). The Louisiana Derby has been a bit more predictable with five winning favorites since 2011, but victorious longshots Hero of Order (109-1 in 2012) and By My Standards (22-1 in 2019) serve as reminders to never take anything for granted at Fair Grounds.