Breeders' Cup Classic winner Gun Runner first emerged as a possible star at the 2015-16 Fair Grounds meet.

Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner first emerged as a possible star at the 2015-16 Fair Grounds meet.

The important Fair Grounds winter meeting kicks off Nov. 18, the beginning of five months of racing that includes major preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

It’s a meeting to watch current stars, and future stars; the most notable in the last two years being this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Gun Runner, who took out two Derby preps in 2016.

The meeting at the New Orleans track begins Nov. 18, with four $50,000 races for Louisiana-breds three years old and up. The stakes begin with the one-mile Mr. Sulu Overnight Stakes on turf, where Louisiana Legends Turf Stakes winner Trust Factor will start favorite, while Inside Information Stakes (G2) runner-up Wheatfield is the likely favorite in the six-furlong Happy Ticket Overnight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

A competitive field of 14 is set for the one-mile Si Cima Overnight Stakes for fillies and mares on turf, and the stakes are rounded out by the six-furlong Heitai Overnight Stakes, featuring Icy Gentleman, Eden Grey’s Kitten, and Sir Genghis.

An even bigger card arrives with Louisiana Champions Day on December 9, featuring eight races for Louisiana-bred Thoroughbreds. Most are worth $100,000, with the highlight being the 1 1/8-mile $150,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic.

Six stakes are held on Santa Saturday Dec. 16, and a further five stakes are held through December.

The serious racing for Classic contenders begins Jan. 13 with Road to the Derby Kickoff Day Jan. 13. The $200,000 LeComte Stakes (G3), a Road to the Kentucky Derby points race at 1 mile 70 yards, is the highlight, while fillies on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks race in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes.

Four other stakes races are run Jan. 13, headed by the 1 1/16-mile Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap (G3) on turf.

The big horses return for Louisiana Derby Preview Day, Feb. 17, headed by the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Stakes (G2). It’s a valuable lead-up to the Louisiana Derby, and the winner gets 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby table and therefore an almost certain Derby start.

Run the same day is the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) for fillies, earning the winner 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks table, while there are also two grade three races for older horses: the 1 1/16-mile Mineshaft Handicap on dirt and the 1 1/8-mile Fair Grounds Handicap on turf.

It all leads to the big day, March 24, in which $2.36 million is allocated between five open stakes races and three Louisiana-bred stakes races.

The winners of both the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) and the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) will earn 100 points for the Road to the Kentucky Derby and the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, respectively.

Don’t forget the other big races on the day, either: the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (G2) over 1 1/8-miles on dirt, and the $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap (G2) over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

It all makes Fair Grounds a must-follow for racing fans. You may just see a future champion.