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WWNO News Features
Wed November 25, 2009
Thanksgiving Day at the Races
By Eileen Fleming
New Orleans, La. – It's early in the morning at the Fairgrounds racetrack, and hundreds of thoroughbreds have been going through exercise routines since before sunrise. Trainer Al Stall says it's not just horses getting ready for Thanksgiving races.
A few other tracks hold races on Thanksgiving Day, but New Orleans celebrates in style - marking it as a premier social event for the 8-thousand people expected to attend. Former Times-Picayune columnist Angus Lind will be in the grandstand, as an owner and a racing fan.
Thirty-year-old Lily McNee has been going to Thanksgiving races with her family for the past 20 years. This year it's especially important to keep the tradition going.
She said to keep spirits up, her mother has made special hats with horses on them.
Judy Wagner and her husband, Bryan, will be all dressed up in their section of the grandstand. Until they met in 1994, she had no contact with the racing world. Now, she's the only woman to win the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.
Bywater resident Jo Starnes and about 50 of her friends use Thanksgiving to enjoy their adopted city. They gather near the paddock entrance and can be spotted in vintage clothing, costumes and designer hats.
Horse racing has been held at the Fairgrounds property since 1852. There were a few breaks - the Civil War notwithstanding, and a racing ban in the early 1900s . The grandstand burned down in 1993, but racing continued. Then Hurricane Katrina closed it for more than a year. Until last year, the Fairgrounds' season traditionally opened on Thanksgiving Day. Now racing begins a few weeks earlier, giving staff some time to make sure everything's in working order for the Thanksgiving handicap.
Les Colonello has dusted off his custom-made red English riding coat to signal the horses heading to the starting gate - with a bit extra for the New Orleans crowd.
Crews have set up the starting gate.
And announcer John Dooley has been getting ready.
For the record, Beer Pong won by a length and a half