It is good to see the Fair Grounds in New Orleans emerging as perhaps the best winter racetrack in America-at least east of the Mississippi River. Although this status comes with the help of slot machines whose action contributes pleasingly to beefing up the purses there.
I have much history in that city and its Thoroughbred racing. I was born in New Orleans quite a few years ago. My grandfather was a founding member of the New Orleans Jockey Club. My mother, bred to be a racing enthusiast, was at the track the day the wildly popular Black Gold broke down and ran his last race. She came back a week later for his burial in the infield - attended by hundreds of school children of New Orleans on hand with floral tributes and the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
I lived a festive life in New Orleans in the early fifties when I worked there in the advertising business. I spent many an afternoon at the Fair Grounds. In fact, I must admit that many of our business lunches at Brennan's in the French Quarter came with a few martinis beforehand, and the business discussions often deteriorated into a stroll across Bourbon Street after lunch to the Old Absinthe House Bar for a brandy (just to settle the meal, you understand). Then, invariably someone-probably me-would suggest, "let's go out to the track and catch the last of the card."
In those days there were many good horses campaigning there-three in particular were the hard-knocking, old handicappers that butted heads almost every Saturday. They were Spur On, Epic King, and Bobby Brocato. Then, of course, there was the legendary old stretch runner Tenacious, whose valiant charges triggered the chorus, "Here Comes Tenacious!"
As a child I remember having lunch with my parents and grandfather on Kentucky Derby Day in the St. Charles Hotel dining room and having my grandfather suggest putting two bucks on my behalf on Cavalcade to win the Derby. My grandfather did, and Cavalcade did.
The Fair Grounds burned down a few years back… and a sporty, smaller facility was built back.
Hurricane Katrina tore the place apart in 2005, and a season was missed while repairs were made.
But the Fair Grounds is still here.
The place today is owned by Churchill Downs Corporation and while they've become increasingly preoccupied with a strong bottom line on the balance sheet, the Fair Grounds Racetrack sports an atmosphere that makes it one of the fine racing facilities in the United States.
This is Cot Campbell, and this is my view.