Nov 29, 201608:05 AM
Full Sport Press
'The games we play in New Orleans and beyond'
Good Times at the Fair Grounds
Thanksgiving Day is track’s party of the year
photos by melanie warner spencer and the associated press
Traditions are odd things in which the original meaning or creation is often forgotten. Why are we doing this? “Because it’s tradition” is what people say without offering any further explanation. The questioner will nod their head knowingly as if that was the only possible answer. Though I wouldn’t ever be confused with being a traditionalist or as an overly sentimental type for events or occasions built on the past, I can only hope that I never miss the beautiful New Orleans tradition of Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds Race Course.
As if a Kentucky boy had to tell you that he loves going to the racetrack.
As with all of the cool things in New Orleans the event does have a unique flavor. First and foremost, whereas most of horse racing’s big cards are at the end of their respective meets, the Fair Grounds’ biggest day is an opening. Not only are the casual fans, dressed in their natty best, full a life but the regular railbirds are back with renewed vigor. This year is going to be the year, they think. It adds an intoxicating buzz along the rail and in the betting lines. No one is trying to catch back up or get to even. Everyone still has hope in his or her heart.
Another beautiful twist to the event is that the day itself is bigger than the races. There’s no Bluegrass Stakes or Santa Anita Derby on the card. The main attraction is a humble $75,000 Thanksgiving Handicap that a horse named Yockey’s Warrior won. Leave the $1 million dollar Louisiana Derby for another day, Thanksgiving Day — even at the track — is about celebrating with your friends and family.
And, oh, how we celebrated.
Our morning, yes morning, began with a boozy brunch on Magnolia bridge, a.k.a. Cabrini bridge, hosted by our spectacularly-hatted friends Scott and Nicki. After many bewildered joggers, a few bottles of champagne and a potluck meal in which absolutely no one brought vegetables, our group of carnivores rode into the Fair Grounds ready to play the ponies. Then I lost every single race.
But it didn’t even matter as I looked fabulous doing it and a couple of our friends did hit on some winners. And, again, we were all together and the sun shone down upon the Crescent City.
As luck would have it, going into the last race Melanie exclaimed, “Blarp! That’s the horse we won on last year!” To which I thought, “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, son,” and loaded up. And just like the movies, Blarp sailed past the finish line to win and entered the Spencer Hall of Fame. Blarp made a lot of folks who stuck around for the last race happy that day. Blarp’s rained down upon the turf and our crew started the chant.
Blarp! Blarp! Blarp! Blarp! Say it. It’s fun.
When leaving the track, there are only two places to go in my book. Either the Seahorse Saloon or Liuzza’s By The Track. We were at Liuzza’s the day American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes and ascended into horse racing legend. And, yes, my eyes teared up just writing that. But this day was a day for the Seahorse, so we ambled across Gentilly Boulevard to the Seahorse and spent our hard-earned dollars on two-dollar High Lifes.
As with all beautiful occasions, you just don’t want them to end. The bar was hopping and we kept chanting. Cole and Jennifer two-stepped to the jukebox and we were all smiles. The day turned to night and whether we knew it or not, we too had become part of the tradition that is Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: NOLA Brewing’s “Flambeau Red” Ale
Playlist Recommendation: Sly and the Family Stone – “Thank you (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”
Around the Way
The race for the NFC South is on. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the NFC South was a Stumblepalooza and that three teams (Saints, Falcons, Buccaneers) could enter this week sporting a 5-6 record. The Saints followed suit but, unfortunately, the Falcons and Bucs have hit another gear. The good news is that the Saints still have a shot at winning the NFC South. New Orleans has a pair of games against Tampa Bay and a season-ending affair in Atlanta. So, sports fans, no matter how ugly it has been, your team is in the playoff hunt with five weeks to go.
After easily brutalizing the Rams defense, led by former Saints coach Gregg Williams, for 555 yards and 49 points there is just cause for hope. The Rams defense had given up 50 points combined in the past five games. Animosity between coaches aside, this was just an old-fashioned butt kicking courtesy of Drew Brees and company. This offense is clicking and the team will have a shot at victory in every game the rest of the way.
But it’s a tough road. The Saints will have to sweep the Bucs (who they trail by one game), and not let the suddenly dormant Arizona offense wake up. They will also have to win this week at home against a red hot, North division-leading Detroit Lions squad. Which could all set up a delicious “Revenge is best served cold” scenario in Atlanta to end the year.
Talking about a division title sounds crazy when the team is sitting at 5-6, but, after the rollercoaster that has been the 2016 campaign so far, would you expect anything less? WhoDat.
Props to the Tulane Greenwave football team for ending the season on a high note. Tulane whipped the UConn Huskies, 38-13, on the road to end the season 4-8 and collect their first American conference victory under coach Willie Fritz. Congratulations to all of the departing seniors and here’s to watching Nico Marley and Tanzel Smart play football on Sundays next year.