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All About Fair Grounds Race Course

There may be more well-known racetracks in the United States, but we can’t imagine a place where you have this much fun watching horses run around a track. The Fair Grounds Race Course isn’t situated in a rural area with not much to do like many other prominent tracks in America are.

The race course at Fair Grounds is plopped right in the heart of New Orleans. Sure, the “Birthplace of Jazz” is mostly known for its music, great food, and ruckus parties on Bourbon Street. However, if you are looking for a hidden gem next time you are visiting New Orleans, we suggest checking out Fair Grounds Race Course.

This guide was created to tell you everything there is to know about the grounds. We aim to cover how and when it got started, as well as give you some details about the racetrack. We will transition into the most important races hosted at Fair Grounds, and then we’ll tell you how to get there.

Certainly, betting is a big part of horse racing. Fortunately, you will have plenty of chances to get your wagers in once you get to the track. We will tell you how that process works and will reveal another place you can walk to from the course to continue the with the gambling theme. Remember, you will have no shortage of things to do when in New Orleans.

Before we jump into all the details about Fair Grounds Race Course, here is a brief overview of some key points.

Overview of Fair Grounds Race Course

Year Opened
New Orleans, Louisiana
Churchill Downs Inc.
Course Type
Notable Races
Louisiana Derby, New Orleans Handicap, Fair Grounds Oaks
Official Website
Overview of Fair Grounds Race Course

Fair Grounds Race Course - The Backdrop

If you are talking about official openings, Fair Grounds Race Course is actually the oldest racetrack in the country. Technically, Freehold Raceway in New Jersey started hosting races earlier, but it didn’t officially open or host annual events until 1854. Regardless, Fair Grounds Race Course has been around since 1852.

Back in the beginning, folks called it the Louisiana Race Course before it officially opened. In 1852, they started referring to it as the Union Race Course before once again changing the name in 1859 to the Creole Race Course. Fair Grounds Race Course wasn’t the actual name until 1863, and it has been that way ever since.

We almost lost Fair Grounds Race Course in 1940 after a piece of legislation was passed that negatively affected the future of horse racing in Louisiana.

Thankfully, a team of investors jumped in and rescued the property from being destroyed. Racing resumed in 1946 after the war.

The tragic events of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are about the only thing that could shorten a racing season at Fair Grounds. The damage caused by the devastating disaster forced the track to be closed, and for the first time in about 60 years, there was no fall or winter racing in New Orleans.

Racetrack – The Specifics

At Fair Grounds Race Course, you are looking at a 1-mile main outside track that features an inner turf track measuring 7/8 of a mile. In horse racing terms, each 1/8 of a mile represents 1 furlong. This explains why you may hear the inner course referred to as being 7 furlongs in length.

They have a large grandstand for spectators to hang out, and they have a beautiful clubhouse rich in history. However, the newest and arguably most appealing part of the racetrack is the new casino on site that opened in 2008.

The Casino at Fair Grounds Race Course

A building that had previously been used for broadcasting purposes was transformed into a slot machine arena. As you can imagine, strategically placing more than 600 slot machines in an area where patrons enter and exit isn’t a terrible thing for business.

Key Races at Fair Grounds Race Course

Now that you have a little foundation for what Fair Grounds Race Course is like, let’s start focusing on the three biggest races that are running there each and every year. It makes sense to start with the leading race on the schedule.

Louisiana Derby

This might be a Grade-II Thoroughbred race, but don’t confuse this for a race not worthy of serious consideration. With an origin date of 1894 and a prize pool of $1 million, this race deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the other major races of the year. Taking place at the end of March or early April, it’s a great time to head to The Big Easy and catch a horse race.

The race is meant for three-year-old horses and can serve as great preparation for the upcoming stretch of Triple Crown events. Dating back to the beginning, it wasn’t always held at Fair Grounds. There have been a few stretches where this race was moved to other venues, but it has been proudly hosted at Fair Grounds every year since 1932. The race was not run for three years during the mid-1940s due to World War II and was again canceled in 2006 – this time because of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction.

The race has always been 1 1/8-miles long, save for a 20-year period from 1989-2009 when the race was slightly shortened to 1 1/16 miles. The record for the fastest time recorded in the Louisiana Derby came in 1997 when Crypto Star narrowly set a new mark of 1:42.60.

New Orleans Handicap

The New Orleans Handicap has been running at Fair Grounds Race Course since 1924. The $400,000-purse race is designated for male or female horses, as long as they are at least four years old. Since it is possible to run in this race multiple times, we have seen three horses win the New Orleans Handicap twice, each time in back-to-back-years.

Jockey Ray Broussard won this event four times, more than any other jockey in history. The New Orleans Handicap is run in the springtime, right in the middle of a handful of other races at the track. This Grade-II race is 1 1/8 miles long.

Even though this isn’t on the shortlist of the highest-profile races in the United States, don’t think that the finest horses in the sport don’t make appearances here. Winner of the 2003 Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, won the New Orleans Handicap during his memorable season.

Fair Grounds Oaks

The Fair Grounds Oaks was created in 1966 as a Grade-III race, but that changed in 2000. The event intended for three-year-old female horses (fillies) has been a Grade-II race ever since. The Fair Grounds Oaks is run towards the end of March as a precursor to the Louisiana Derby.

Held on the same afternoon as the Louisiana Derby, one could certainly say that this day every year is the biggest day at the Fair Grounds track all season long. This race lasts 1 1/16 miles and is run on the outside dirt track.

In 1997, Blushing K.D. finished the race in a blazing 1:42.20, a record that still stands today. The 2009 running of the Fair Grounds Oaks produced a winning horse by the name of Rachel Alexandra. That name may sound familiar, as later a couple months later she became the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in nearly 100 years.

Louisiana native and wildly successful jockey man Donnie Meche is the only jockey to win the Fair Grounds Oaks three times. Female standout jockey Rosie Napravnik is nipping at Donnie’s heels with two titles of her own.

Traveling to Fair Grounds Race Course

The cool thing about planning a trip to Fair Grounds Race Course is that it doesn’t have to be all about horse racing. Some of the most historic racetracks in the United States are plopped in areas where there isn’t much else to do other than watch the horse races.

At Fair Grounds, you will find that the French Quarter and Bourbon Street are conveniently located within walking distance of the race course. Finding a scrumptious Po’ boy sandwich or some mouthwatering beignets from Café Du Monde is a must when you are visiting the area.

Head to Fair Grounds Race Course during the last weekend of April or the first weekend of May, and you will find yourself in the center of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This extravaganza of events takes place every year in New Orleans on these two weekends, and it all goes down at Fair Grounds.

Eric Clapton performing at Fair Grounds Race Course

Getting to Fair Grounds shouldn’t be a problem. As we mentioned above, the race course is located in the heart of the city, within a walk or short trolley ride of everything else The Big Easy has to offer. If you are arriving via flight, just take the 15-20 min. Uber or taxi ride east into the downtown area. The Fair Grounds Race Course is just one of the attractions you’ll want to make sure you check out.

We suggest giving yourself as much time as possible to try and squeeze in as much as you can. Running out of things to do in New Orleans in and around the race course surely won’t be an issue.

Betting Info – It’s Time to Make Some Money

If you came to New Orleans to watch some horse races, then surely you are prepared to wager some money. Not only do you have the betting and slot machine facilities at the property itself, but you have Harrah’s Casino only 3.8 miles away. The walk isn’t as bad when you consider you pass through the French Quarter, and we all know what you may or may not see and experience on that journey.

Not all of you are going to be visiting the racetrack live, but that doesn’t mean you are left out of the loop. The top sites in the online sports betting industry have you covered.


Betting on the races at Fair Grounds Race Course online is a fantastic option for anyone, especially those that are not able to make it to the races in person. Those of you that ARE lucky enough to be on site when the events are taking place have plenty of choices when it comes to placing bets.

You only have to be 18 years old to bet on the horses. However, 21 is the minimum age requirement for those of you looking to “mix it up” at one of their 600+ slot machines. The slot machine facility is open from 9 am-midnight daily and offers free parking to its customers. It’s not just slots, boys and girls! Video poker can also be found. Make sure you know when to hold 2 kings and when to chase a flush before you sit down for a session!

When you get to the race course and want to place wagers on the horses, your opportunities literally become endless. Little explaining needs to be done, as you can’t walk around Fair Grounds without passing by designated betting areas. Be sure to download their betting app, as you will be able to place wagers at your leisure instead of waiting in a line.

Top Tip:

Take advantage of all the data you will find on the betting sheets at Fair Grounds. There is no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to picking horses.

Summing It Up

New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of the coolest and most interesting cities in North America. Don’t overlook how rich the history and tradition is at Fairgrounds Race Course, one of the three oldest horse racing facilities in the entire country. We thought it would be useful to create a guide detailing this prestigious piece of land in “The Crescent City.”

The track opened in 1852 and has been hosting a handful of significant Thoroughbred races ever since. We looked at the specifics and measurements of the race course itself before we discussed those major races. There is so much to do at the race course year-round, as well as in the city in general. We thought it was imperative to make sure you were aware of what’s offered, as well as tell you the easiest ways to get there.

Finally, our team of horse racing enthusiasts dove into what to expect when betting races at Fair Grounds. Whether you plan on attending the Louisiana Derby in person or you just wanted some information to help you succeed when wagering online, our segment on betting should prove to be a valuable section.

New Orleans has so much to offer; Fair Grounds Race Course is just a small slice of the pie. We want this to be your go-to page anytime you are looking for information about Fair Grounds. You may not have been aware that the city that’s known for its jazz music and turtle soup has a racetrack with this much going on.

Now you do.