Tarani (it's pronounced like "Marigny") Duncan, who has been doing a tremendous job as social media intern for the editorial office for quite a while now, will be blogging twice a month on local travel spots in the greater New Orleans area. They're phenomenal for tourists, but even better for local boys and girls who – maybe – need to get out just a bit more than they already do.
She thought it best to start with the Fair Grounds in order to ease in to her new assignment.
This isn’t the same place I visited last April during Jazz Fest. Back then, there was a single-file line of cherry-faced concertgoers snaking between blue warehouses in 100-plus degree weather. The Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots (1751 Gentilly Blvd.) was then a sort of Big Easy Burning Man, except that instead of ingesting heinous amounts of peyote, my friends and I stuffed ourselves on fried alligator poor boys and washed them down with lukewarm domestic beer from plastic bottles. It’s strange – everything I can recall about Fair Grounds during that time stands in stark contrast to its physical reality this Sunday when I come for the races.
Entry is free. However, if you opt for a more bourgeois experience of Fair Grounds, clubhouse seats are available for a measly seven dollars.
We opt for free entry. Upon our arrival, we find the perfectly manicured track in between races, a time when everything is in an interesting limbo between resolution and the looming specter of the next race. The bandstand, pristine and imperial, ranks high above the spectators.
“It’s best to pick your horse as the jockeys are preparing them for the race.” says veteran plungor Brad Quintana. “The idea is to bet on the ones with the most restless demeanors.” If you aren’t well-versed in equine body language, no worries; you can always bet based on the horse’s stats or name. I prefer the latter because the names are hilarious. (If nothing else, I imagine that my most successful days at Fair Grounds will be the results of slightly inebriated exercises in intuition.)
It’s easiest to remember three words: win, place and show. If you bet on a horse to win, it means you’ll only win money if the horse finishes first. However, if you bet on a horse to place, and the horse finishes in either first or second, you still win – just not as much money as you would have had you bet win on the winner. "Show" means that if your horse finishes in the top three, you’ll walk away with at least a little something. Of course, there is more to know, but for first-timers, this should do the trick.
If you want to place a bet, go inside the bandstand; you’ll see electronic kiosks, and if you have any questions, there are personnel behind the counter to guide you or friendly gamblers sitting at the tables who offer aid in exchange for your gut-feelings. If you’re a little overwhelmed, a visit to the information desk is highly recommended.
Upon placing your bet, it’s nice to head back to the track and watch the horses line up. In my opinion, the best place to watch the race is trackside where, moments after the races, you will have an intimate view of the horses still writhing and stomping with adrenaline. A little boy and I watch as horse jockeys dump buckets of cold water onto the horses’ vein-riddled bodies.
After the sixth race, we head inside to collect our winnings. You can do this at any time–just be sure to hang on tight to your tickets because you’ll need them to redeem your cash.
In addition to the horse races, Fair Grounds contains a small casino, a cocktail bar, a beer garden and the food isn’t so bad either. There’s also something called off-track betting that allows you to gamble on other races happening at tracks all over the country.
It’s a melancholy time to write this article as there are only a couple more weeks left in the racing season before it’s festival time, during which music reigns supreme. But this year April 1 at Fair Grounds is particularly exciting. For the first time in track history, closing day coincides with the $1 million Louisiana Derby.
Maybe we’ll see you there.