Louisiana Derby solid lead-in to Run for Roses

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Harrah’s New Orleans is No. 1 in my book!

If you happen to have a bucket list, get out your pen or pencil and put this one on it. Go to New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby, make a reservation at Harrah’s, which is right on the Mississippi River and in the middle of all that is happening in the city. Plus, it’s only a short 20 minute ride to Fair Grounds race track.

The boys (I mean men) from GamingToday had the pleasure of staying at this beautiful hotel on our recent trip last week for the 100th running of the La. Derby and it was far beyond our expectations. The staff at Harrah’s were as nice and professional as anywhere I have ever stayed, starting with Albert meeting us at the door.

The area has all the finest places to eat with a Ruth’s Chris right in the lobby of the hotel. Speaking of the hotel, our rooms were like staying in a 5 star joint but without the price tag.

Before making our trip to the Crescent City we consulted with our local advisor Syl Friedman, who said Harrah’s was the spot – citing its great location, excellent service and spectacular view overlooking the Mississippi. He was correct, as usual.

Brad Weissman, director of hotel operations, and Shawn Cooper, hotel manager, have assembled a “World Class” staff that truly exhibits Southern Hospitality. Valets, doormen, bellmen, front desk, concierge and housekeepers were all so friendly and helpful. This management team got it right, thank you.

The track – one of the oldest in America and a Churchill Downs facility – has a slot parlor, off-track betting, a great grandstand and fabulous clubhouse with great food. Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant and Racing Director Eric Halstrom both deserve a lot of credit for a job well done at the 100th running of the Louisiana Derby.

I had the chance to hook up with top jock and rising star Rosie Napravnik, who just notched her third straight riding title at the Fair Grounds. Not only can she ride, but she is a pleasure to talk to.

Rosie is very smart and cagy, and the trainers say she can get the best out of her mounts and keep them going. Rosie will be heading to Keeneland and then over to Churchill Downs. We wish her the best and hope she gets a Kentucky Derby mount. It looks like Shanghai Bobby will not get enough points with the new point system to make it.

Rosie is the nation’s leading rider in wins and 60 Minutes will be doing a profile on her. She has 14 stakes wins, the most by any rider so far this year in the U.S. She and her husband Joe Sharp recently purchased a home in New Orleans. She loves the neighborhood and New Orleans.

We also hooked up with the second leading rider at the meet, James Graham, a true Irishman with the brogue to prove it. James is one cool customer on the track with a ton of ability. He can flat out ride and is looking for the mounts to overtake Napravnik next year. James will also be moving on to Kentucky and we wish him well.

Topping things off at the Fair Grounds last Friday (the day before the La. Derby) we talked with jockey Mark Guidry right after he went wire to wire in the first race. Mark was as nice as ever and could not say enough good things about Paul Truitt, who was his agent when he was riding in California and won the Santa Anita Derby. Mark looks the same now as he did back then.

All in all I just cannot say enough good things about our stay, but do want to give a special thanks to Mike Paciera, who was so kind to seat us with him at his clubhouse table right on the finish line. Kudos also to my good Irish pal Kenny “Shag” Reagon for helping make this a fabulous trip to New Orleans.

As they say in Louisiana, laissez les bon temps roulez – let the good times roll. They sure did.

Again, make this a must on your bucket list.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper.  Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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