Historical Fair Grounds

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 8, 2016 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Metairie Race Course New Orleans




Getting out of town is a treat. For horse players, when they arrive at their destination it is reminiscent of searching under the Christmas tree for the gift with your name attached. I know this to be true when I pulled into the gates of Fair Grounds race track on Saturday. – If you’ve read it once you’ve heard it a thousand times. ” Pack up your gear and head out to the races.” – There is something magical for the gambler as he or she pulls in. The day is full of promise and the excitement is just ahead. As I walked through the gates I could feel the history drape over me like a cloak. Around every turn there were the sounds of the past and the voices of the present. The smile on my face could only shadow the one in my heart. It’s been a long time, but I’m back !

Opening in the fall of 1852, the Union Course, site of the present day Fair Grounds, is tucked away just a couple of miles north of the French Quarter in what is now known as the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. The course held its first horse race, a harness race, that fall with the first thoroughbred meet occurring the following spring. Closed in 1857 due to competition from a neighboring track, the Union Course reopens in 1859 under the name “Creole Course” and once again is the home to harness racing, according to SB Nation.

The Civil War erupts in 1861 and the course becomes the home for 3,000 Confederate troops and is renamed “Camp Walker”. In 1863, the Creole Course is transformed into what is known as the Mechanics and Agricultural Fair Grounds, or the Louisiana Fair Grounds, for short. Racing continues during the Civil War along with a host of other activities at the track. Following the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Fair Grounds begins to plot its course forward.

This is where many began their love affair with the sport. There is something special about a place that has survived so many devastating losses and still answers the bell to come back and fight again. – The fire in 1919 that burnt the grandstand to the ground only to be rebuilt in grand fashion. 1993 once again had the gem of the south devastated by fire, and a multi-million dollar renovation built it back even better. – When Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused the cancellation of the racing meet, Louisiana Downs in Bossier City stepped up and conducted the meet at their course. Resilient, beautiful, and majestic in its splendor, the Fair Grounds is a symbol of New Orleans.

Rich in history, and fascinating to examine, you can see white markers in the infield. Most may miss them or assume they were markers from days gone by. Well, they are.  The infield at the Fair Grounds is the final resting place to several notable thoroughbreds to run at the track, including 1924 Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold and Pan Zareta, a winner of 76 career races in 151 starts. – I find myself glancing over my program at the markers from time-to-time. Not in sadness for the time past, but for the rich history that is the tapestry of the area.

The day started with some red beans and rice, and split a po-boy with my gal. If you’re not familiar with the dining fare, suffice it to say it’s the stuff that dreams and bigger belt sizes are made of. – I had the first seven winners and a few exactas. No big betting on this trip, just an appreciation of the game. The next three races couldn’t find my horses with a search warrant, and I was ready to make the walk to the car. – On my exit through the doors and into the beautiful sunset, I wished the day could be starting again. Pulling away I could only think of my return, and how next year would even be better. – This is the splendor of being there in person. It’s was not about the wins or the big bankroll this time. It was about returning to my roots as that bright-eyed racing fan who used to tag along with his Dad. – Good to return with a wide-eyed view from time to time as it refreshes our senses to why we fell in love with racing the first time. – See you next time around, Fair Grounds. Thank you for welcoming me back to my roots.