from Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino
Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino, which opened in the spring of 2004, is scheduled to offer its first turf race Sept. 1.
Evangeline, which moved to Opelousas, La., from Carencro near Lafayette, has offered only dirt racing on a one-mile track. The first turf race, a starter allowance test with a $40,000 purse, will be raced at one mile as the first race on the Labor Day program that gets under way at 6:20 p.m. CDT.
“We had everything lined up for us on the turf track,” said Steve Darbonne, executive director of racing operations for Evangeline. “We had the right contractor and team of people who built it.”
Le Talley Ho, headed by Pat Talley, handled the physical construction. The Louisiana-based company was instrumental in the reconstruction of the dirt racetrack in 2005.
Evangeline’s turf track is seven-eighths of a mile with a chute to accommodate races at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles. It is 80 feet wide and planted with Tiff 419 Bermuda grass. Ten inches of special blended sand mixed with sport grids was used as the growing medium.
“Le Talley Ho was already experienced with our racetrack, the base and existing infrastructure,” Darbonne said. “The base for the turf track and dirt track are almost identical. When you put them with Matt Yount, our track expert, it helped put everything in our favor.
“This is another big milestone in the construction of Evangeline Downs build-out. The turf track puts us in a league with major racetracks, and will bring more top horses to our program.”
The actual construction of the turf track was completed in five months. The grass sod was in for three months before the first horse galloped on it Aug. 23.
“Everything went very well with that first workout,” Yount said. “The response was good from the riders and the horses galloped well. We’re a go for Monday.”
“We are also keeping an eye on (the storm) Gustav,” Darbonne. “If it heads our way, we will do what’s in the best interest of our patrons, employees, and horses, including canceling the races.”
There are some features that are unique to the Evangeline turf course. The portable inside rail that helps set the distance for the races is designed to move in 10-foot intervals. There are electronic eyes at the different intervals that give it the capability of timing the races set at exact distances. Turf race lengths are usually mentioned as “about” lengths because the rails are not set at exact distances.
With the new turf course at Evangeline, three of four Louisiana tracks have grass courses. The other two are Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots and Harrah’s Louisiana Downs. Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino has a six-furlong main track and can’t accommodate a turf course.