Churchill Plans for 'Unique' Meet in Louisiana

As a result of damage to Fair Grounds Race Course from Hurricane Katrina, there will be no live racing there this year and plans are being made for a "unique" meet at nearby Louisiana Downs in its place, according to Churchill Downs president and CEO Tom Meeker.

In a teleconference Friday, Meeker said details of the meet that will replace the Fair Grounds meet are still to be worked out in negotiations with Louisiana Downs general manager Ray Tromba, but that it would be not be as long as the Fair Grounds meet would have been and will not generate any revenue for the parent company. Fair Grounds was scheduled to open Nov. 24, and run through March 26, 2006 Owned by Harrah's Entertainment, Louisiana Downs is located in Bossier City.

Meeker said the Fair Grounds clubhouse and grandstand were not flooded by the hurricane, but there was some damage from water and wind. He said the barn area was covered by four feet of water and that the racecourse itself was also covered by water as a result of the storm. Meeker said company personnel had not been able to get access to any of the 10 off-track betting facilities operated by Fair Grounds in the New Orleans area to assess storm damage. He said Churchill's $200-million insurance policy, less a $500,000 deductible, would cover the damage and that the company would also file an insurance claim for the disruption of normal business stemming from the hurricane. Before the hurricane, Churchill was forecasting a pre-tax loss of $1.3 million from its Louisiana operations, according to chief financial officer Mike Miller.

Meeker said details of the Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs meet were not firmed up, but noted it would be primarily serve as a means to generate income and purses for Fair Grounds personnel and horsemen. He said the temporary meet would also be scheduled to fit in with the national racing calendar.

"We are still working on the details, but it will be a unique meet," Meeker said. "We are concerned about not only establishing a meet there (at Louisiana Downs) but also in providing an orderly trail for horsemen who come to that meet. "We are looking at it from the standpoint of purses, availability of horses, and concern for the horsemen to make sure we have an order path for them to follow for this year as well as next year."-

Meeker said efforts by Churchill Downs to contact its approximately 500 Louisiana-based employees through a toll-free number (877-244-5536) and the Fair Grounds Web site had resulted in about 30% of its personnel making contact with the company. He reiterated that since Friday, Sept. 2, was pay day, Churchill was prepared to send checks to employees via overnight delivery or have their pay deposited directly into bank accounts.

Seven Fair Grounds security department personnel who voluntarily remained at the track when it and the OTB sites were evacuated last Saturday, Aug. 27, finally left Thursday, Meeker said, noting that the company felt it was in the best interests of the employees to leave due to the reports of shots being fired in New Orleans.

The Churchill president reiterated the company's commitment to its Louisiana operations. "We invested in that community because we liked it," Meeker said of New Orleans. "The nexus between the track and that community is a mirror image of what it is here in (Churchill's headquarters) Louisville...The Fair Grounds will be there and New Orleans will be there, but we have a huge challenge facing us not only as members of the community but the entire country."