The Opelousas, La., track reported the average nightly handle of $1.734 million was a gain of more than 3% from last year’s record average of $1.675 million, despite the cancellation of one program after four races and another after eight races.
Despite racing five fewer nights from 2007 (including the loss of the final night of the season due to Hurricane Gustav), total handle dipped only 3.3% from last year’s record $149,162,803 to $145,730,992. On-track handle showed slight declines in both total handle and nightly average, from $6,168,301 to $5,597,291, and $69,278 to $66,634.
On May 3, buoyed by the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Evangeline Downs claims it recorded the single highest nightly handle in the 43-year history of racing in South-Central Louisiana with a total of $2,444,675 bet on the 11-race program.
The increased wagering coupled with casino proceeds also drove purses to an all-time level. This year’s average purse distribution including the stakes program and the state-bred bonuses was more than $216,800, an increase of more than 10.5% from last year’s purse average of slightly more than $196,000.
Evangeline Downs, which features one of the highest average field sizes in the United States, saw a total of 8,743 horses start in the 858 races conducted during the season, an average of 10.19, up slightly from last year’s average of 10.02.
“Not only did we show gains in our nightly handle and field size, but the quality of our product continues to improve,” said Evangeline Downs’s director of racing operations Steve Darbonne in a news release.
Evangeline Downs reported its seven-furlong turf course with a 1 1/8th-mile chute will be fully operational in 2009.