In Which I Lose Money at the Track But Don’t Care

The clever folks at the Fair Grounds have achieved the impossible: They have created an entirely new form of decadent nighttime entertainment in a city that seemed to have already invented them all. I doff my cap to the masterminds who concocted Starlight Racing. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, do so ASAP. There is only one date left this season (March 18th) but given the explosive popularity of the event and the crowds that ensue, expect it back next year and hopefully more frequently. How did they do it? Here is their recipe for success:

To make a Starlight Racing event, start with full card of nine races. Add a huge tented cocktail garden at the track level with velvet ropes and wristbands. Sprinkle with scantily-clad dancers in jockey-inspired outfits on pedestals. Layer the music vibe with The Mixed Nuts performing live in the clubhouse while DJ Kemistry spooks the horses at ground level. Mix in about seven full bar stations, one gourmet Taco Truck (Tacaeux Loceaux) and random prize drawings including betting options and cash prizes. Encourage outrageous dressing, open the doors for the 5 p.m. post time, and stir.

What do you get? A whole lot of energy, weirdness and generally fun confusion. The younger crowd heads to the scene at the ground level. The track regulars gravitate at the grandstand rail just opposite, perusing forms and looking a bit cranky and perturbed at the party ambiance which has subsumed their normal routine. The clubhouse level is big hair and lots of cologne. Hipsters in Fedoras circulate freely and in one sheer moment of confusion a father with a sleeping 1-year-old slung over his shoulder was ogling a Starlight Dancer while a well-dressed elderly couple behind him was trying to get at the tacos at the other side of the velvet rope, confused by the wristband policy.

How best to describe this? I could sum up thusly: You could hold a casting call for just about every reality show in existence here and fill three seasons worth of characters for each, plus extras. The Real Housewives have reservations in the Clubhouse. The Jersey Shore guys are hanging around the Starlight Dancers, while Snooki & Pals are at ground level whooping it up with battery-powered Big Gulp Martini glasses. The Real World krewe is dancing to live music on the fourth floor of the Clubhouse overlooking the paddock, and Throttle Junkies, Top Gear and Miami Ink may be found in the Grandstands near the Mutuel windows. Dear Oxygen Channel, may I also suggest a new locale for Bad Girls Club Season 7 since Chateaux Estates fell through? The synergy would be fantastic.

The logistics aren’t perfect. Parking was a mess; entering the Fair Grounds we were waved through the Gentilly Boulevard entrance and then directed along the flank of the Grandstands before being unceremoniously dumped back onto Fortin Street  because was actually no longer any on-site parking available. Consequently, we had to park on a side street and walk the long way round. So if you go, go early, or be prepared to valet.

Good old Chairman Mao Zedong famously said “There is chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent.” That quote easily applies to Starlight Racing and I mean that as a compliment. Kudos, Fair Grounds. Hope to see this again next season, and more often besides.

Jay Forman is the dining editor for New Orleans Magazine and the author of a monthly Table Talk column. 


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