Evangeline: Higher Purses, New Racing Secretary

Average purses will double at Evangeline Downs this season if the first condition book for the meet is any indication.

The Louisiana racetrack, which recently hired veteran Warren Groce as its new racing secretary, opens April 1. Average purses for the first three days of the meet are about $143,000, up from $72,000 in 2003.

This will be the final live season of racing at Evangeline Downs, located in Carencro. The new Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino, located about 15 minutes north in Opelousas, opened for slot-machine gaming late last year, and is scheduled to host live Thoroughbred racing in 2005.

According to published reports, the 2004 fall Quarter Horse meet could be held at the new track if construction remains on schedule.

In the first condition book, which goes through April 19, the minimum purse is $6,250 for $3,500 claimers. An open maiden special weight test will go for $14,250, while a similar race for Louisiana-breds will go for $20,250. An open allowance race or stakes prep is listed at $18,250.

The $50,000 Inaugural Handicap on April 3 highlights the first week of racing.

Groce, a 65-year-old native of New Orleans, was director of racing at old Jefferson Downs near New Orleans. For the past 13 years, he has served as racing secretary at Sportsman's Park in Illinois, Hoosier Park in Indiana, and Ellis Park in Kentucky.

Groce was the first racing secretary at Hoosier Park when it opened for Thoroughbred racing in 1995 and has been credited for that facility's success from a racing standpoint early on. In fact, it was Groce who lured some Louisiana horsemen and jockeys north to compete in Indiana.

"It is a thrill for me to return home," Groce said in a release. "I have developed so many wonderful relationships over the years with the horsemen in the state of Louisiana. The addition of slots revenue will positively impact our purses and greatly improve the quality of our racing at Evangeline Downs."

The new Evangeline will have a one-mile dirt track--the surface at the current facility is seven furlongs in circumference--and a seven-furlong turf course. General manager Bruce Fraser said the track in five years "hopes to have one of the best racing programs in the country, and we will rely heavily on Warren and his staff to move us in that direction."

Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino, owned by Peninsula Gaming Co., is the first racino in the country built from scratch. In January, the first full month of operation, slot machines generated $5.98 million in adjusted gross revenue, and a little more than $1 million for purses and breed development, according to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

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