The old Fair Grounds here, which has survived carpetbaggers, four wars, reformers and several changes in ownership since its start in 1872, is having a bang-up season. One of the three oldest tracks in the country, it was, at the turn of the century, the very heart of winter racing. And it still is for thousands of people in the South and Middle West.
Of course, compared to Santa Anita and Hialeah everything is in miniature. Everything, that is, except the track itself. Purses are smaller. There is only one $50,000 stake race, the New Orleans Cap. Attendance is smaller, too—six to eight thousand is the daily average. And the handle is far below the other winter tracks. Nevertheless, for a huge segment of the public, winter racing still means New Orleans, just as it has since 1837 when the old Eclipse Course opened right above the city with the world's first scientifically blended dirt track.
The biggest attraction at the Fair Grounds this season is 18-year-old Ray Broussard, the apprentice, who is the leading rider in the country thus far in 1955. Broussard comes from Louisiana Cajun country where he started riding quarter horses at the small age of 11. He's tall for a jockey, with enormous hands and feet, and keeping his weight down is already a major problem. The Cajun kid rides in a manner reminiscent of Conn McCreary, guaranteed to give you heart failure if you've bet on him, for he moves slowly and comes from far back off the pace to end in a powerful stretch rush. He's had 51 winners since the first of the year, but was set down for 10 days for rough riding last week, which may hurt his chances.
The best three-year-old on the grounds—and one which is pointed for the Louisiana Derby—is Roman Patrol, Pin Oaks Farm's very fast colt which won four out of five starts last year, including the Remsen at Jamaica. The bay colt has filled out, grown taller and looks good to me. Trainer "Slim" Pierce, foreman for Jim Fitzsimmons for 18 years, told me he is moving slowly with him, but he is about ready now. Also on the grounds is Simmy, which ran second to Summer Tan in the Garden State. He got nothing the day I saw him run there and looked as if he were at the end of a hard campaign rather than making his first start of the winter season.
CHIP OFF OLD WHIRLAWAY
But by far the most interesting horse around is the Calumet-bred Spur On, the seven-year-old son of Whirlaway from Still Blue, a daughter of Blue Larkspur. Owned by Marvin E. Affeld, the oil man, and trained by Mitchell Silagy, Spur On is as goofy as his papa, mighty Whirlaway, which was as erratic an animal as you'd find working for a living. Spur On won't even breeze while other horses are on the track. This means they have to wake him up and get him out by 5:30 a.m. or even before. He's so finicky that he's been known to go on a two-day hunger strike if even his groom watches him while he eats. But last year he won the Michigan Mile, beating Social Outcast and, barring some unexpected Brook-meade or Hasty House Farm's tourist from Florida, he's my pick for the New Orleans Cap.