Race Tracks > Fair Grounds Race Course
Fair Grounds race course Track Facts
- Address: 1751 Gentilly Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70119
- Phone: (504) 944-5515
- Website: www.fairgroundsracecourse.com
- Main Track (Dirt): 1 mile oval
- Chute distances: None
- Stretch length: 1,346 feet
- Surface Composition: Dirt
Opened in 1838, Fair Grounds Race Course the nation’s third-oldest racetrack and one of the nation’s premier racing destinations.
Notable Stakes and Listed Racing Events at Fair Grounds Race Course
- Louisiana Derby (G2) | 3-year-olds going 1-1/8 mi.
- Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) | 3-year-old fillies going 1-1/16 mi.
- New Orleans Handicap (G2) | 4-year-olds & up going 1-1/8 mi.
- Risen Star Stakes (G2) | 3-year-olds going 1-1/16 mi.
- Muniz Memorial Classic Stakes (G2) | 4-year-olds & up going 1-1/8 mi.
- Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) | 3-year-old fillies going 1-1/16 mi.
Fair Grounds Race Course Racing and Track History
As one of the oldest operating racetracks, the Fair Grounds Race Course started hosting thoroughbred races in 1838. The organizers included Bernard de Marigny, a Creole-American nobleman and former President of the Louisiana State Senate, and Henry Augustine Tayloe, a wealthy landowner whose family had long been involved in horse racing.
The track experienced some volatility in the mid-1800’s, as the track re-opened in 1852 as the Union Race Course only to close in 1857 due to increase competition with the Metairie Course. In 1863, the track was renamed to its current name and held racing during the Civil War, but it closed once more after the Metairie Course was reopened (which was being used as a temporary Confederate Army camp). Finally in 1871, former members of the Metairie Jockey Club broke away to begin holding meets at the track. Since then, Fair Grounds has been in continuous operation (aside from a period between 1908 and 1914 when racing was banned New Orleans and in 2005 after suffering heavy damage due to Hurricane Katrina).
Fair Grounds is home to several notable graded stakes races, most notably being the Grade II Louisiana Derby. The Derby is considered a major prep race for the “Run for the Roses”, as it is included in the Road to Kentucky Derby prep series and has points implications for the horses that finish in the top 4. In the race’s history, only two winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Black Gold (1924) and Grindstone (1996).
Fair Grounds Race Course – located in historic Mid-City on Gentilly Blvd. in New Orleans, Louisiana – has a long, complicated history that has seen it rise from the ashes of war, development, flood and fire.
The grounds upon which Fair Grounds currently sits has been the site of horse racing since before the Civil War. Union Course opened its first meet on September 25, 1852, conducting its first race for pacers. One year later on April 1, 1853, it staged the first Thoroughbred meeting.
Union Course closed down in 1857 but reopened two years later as Creole Course under the authority of the Metairie Trotting and Pacing Club. Just two years later, though, the Confederacy assumed control of the grounds and converted it into a military encampment known as Camp Walker.
Union soldiers occupied New Orleans in 1862, and Creole Race Course eventually evolved into the Mechanics and Agriculture Fair Grounds, also called the Louisiana Fair Grounds Course. During the war, it served multiple uses such as a venue for boxing, baseball, bull and bear fights, as well as horse racing.
The Metairie Jockey Club reorganized following the war and resumed racing from 1867-1872, but infighting broke out between the old and new guard. In 1871, the younger members revived the Louisiana Jockey Club, renovated the track and, on April 13, 1872, hosted the inaugural day of racing at Fair Grounds.
In 1873, pari-mutuel wagering was offered to bettors and by 1900 Fair Grounds was the only track in the country that accepted and continued the system.
During that time, Fair Grounds passed through different management hands and organizations before the Locke Law ended racing in 1908 at the New Orleans track for seven years.
Racing resumed on January 1, 1915, but four years later a fire destroyed the grandstand. It took only four days for a temporary facility to be constructed and a 54-day meet took place.
The Depression Era almost saw Fair Grounds sold off and developed into a subdivision. On January 2, 1941, the track went on the auction block and was saved at the last moment by a group of New Orleans horsemen/businessmen.
The next 40 years saw such luminaries as Whirlaway, Bill Shoemaker and John Henry compete at the track. In 1981, turf racing was introduced as the Stall-Wilson turf course was installed.
Fair Grounds was devastated by a seven-alarm fire on December 17, 1993, which completely destroyed the grandstand, but racing continued after temporary facilities were constructed.
A new grandstand and clubhouse facility opened on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1997, and Fair Grounds soon established itself as a wintering ground for major stables around the country. Champions and Triple Crown prospects all began using the track to kick off a new season of racing.
Churchill Downs Inc. bought Fair Grounds for $47 million in September 2004 but just one year later the track suffered severe damage when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Though that year’s meet was transferred to Louisiana Downs while repairs were made, Fair Grounds was back up and running for the 135 season of racing on Thanksgiving Day 2006. In 2013, the track hosted the 100th edition of the Louisiana Derby.
Today, Fair Grounds continues its century’s old tradition of offering racing and entertainment to all. The track began hosting the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1972, earning the local economy around $300 million annually as it attracts hundreds of thousands of fans each year.