Thoroughbreds Back at Post-Hurricane Delta Downs

Thoroughbred racing returns to Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino in Vinton, La., Nov. 1 after a 19- month hiatus brought on by Hurricane Rita. The 88-night season, which runs through March 31, 2007, offers a 39-race stakes schedule worth more than $4 million.

Delta Downs, which has slot machines, had hoped to offer Thoroughbred racing in January but it was unable to finish all of the necessary repairs. Since the hurricane struck Sept. 24, 2005, Boyd Gaming, the track's owner, has spent about $41 million in hurricane reconstruction costs and $8.9 million in post-closing expenses.

Rob Stillwell, a Boyd Gaming spokesman, said the racetrack is better than ever with many new features.

"We are very excited about starting the Thoroughbred season after months of delay," Stillwell said. "The repairs we made were significant, primarily to the older parts of the track."

Stillwell said Delta Downs, which has a three-quarter-mile dirt racing surface, rebuilt 20 of 22 barns damaged by the hurricane from the ground up. Each barn has 60 stalls. The track's main restaurant--the Lookout Steakhouse--reopens Nov. 1, and plans are under way to build a track-level restaurant. There also is a new tote board.

"The track looks great," Stillwell said. "It's very beautiful. This Thoroughbred season is going to be very special to us because of the Delta Jackpot on Dec. 1."

The Jackpot, for 2-year-olds, carries a $1-million purse and a grade III ranking. It's currently the richest race in Louisiana.

Delta Downs closed Sept. 22, 2005, two days before Hurricane Rita steamrolled through southwest Louisiana. The track's slots parlor and other amenities reopened 43 days later on Nov. 3; most of the track's 2005-06 Thoroughbred meet was moved to Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino.

The track's insurance policy has covered most of the damages and expenses caused by the hurricane, according to filings with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC reports show Delta Downs through this past June received insurance advances totaling $39 million for hurricane damages and another $10 million for business interruption.

The hurricane heavily damaged the barns and the grandstand. There was damage to the hotel and the slots parlor, but repairs to those buildings didn't take as long as others did. Since the slots parlor reopened nearly a year ago, business has picked up at Delta Downs.

Financial results for Boyd Gaming in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30 show Delta Downs' adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization was up 53% from the third quarter of 2005. Reports filed with the Louisiana Gaming Control Board show the track's 1,500 slot machines generated more than $152 million in revenue from November 2005 through September 2006.

The Nov. 3 program is called Delta Jackpot Preview Night, with four stakes worth $350,000, including the $150,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Dec. 1 Delta Jackpot program will offer four other stakes, including the $300,000 Delta Princess Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The $1-million Louisiana Premier Night for state-bred horses is set for Feb. 3, 2007.