Track-Surface Woes Force Evangeline Shutdown

Louisiana racing officials planned to meet May 18 to discuss a strategy in the wake of an announcement that live racing at Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino would be halted until June 30 so the new racing surface can be overhauled.

Live racing has been suspended since May 12, when the program was halted after the sixth race. In the fourth race, three horses failed to finish--one was eased, one pulled up lame, and another broke down in the final sixteenth of a mile--according to the official charts. In the sixth race, one horse lost contact with the field and another one broke down in upper stretch, according to the charts.

Evangeline, located in Opelousas, La., opened for live Thoroughbred racing at its new facility April 7. During a Quarter Horse meet that began in early February, there also were concerns about the condition of the one-mile track. Evangeline this year relocated its racing operation to Opelousas from Carencro, where the old facility is now used as a training center.

Evangeline is scheduled to reopen June 30. That would cost the track 27 days of racing, including the three full cards lost when racing was first suspended. The meet runs through Labor Day, though it wasn't immediately known if any dates would be made up.

Evangeline traditionally races four nights a week, with daily average purses of $165,000.

Track officials planned to meet again with officials from the Louisiana State Racing Commission, Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Jockeys' Guild. An open forum for horsemen and licensed personnel only was scheduled for the afternoon of May 18.

Almost 2,000 horses are stabled at Evangeline and the Evangeline Training Center. Some horse may race at Harrah's Louisiana Downs, which is open for its live Thoroughbred meet, and some may ship elsewhere should their connections choose not to wait until Evangeline reopens.

"We are disappointed to have suspended racing May 12 and thereafter," Evangeline chief operating officer Jonathan Swains said in a statement. "We evaluated both short-term and long-term solutions but believe it is in everyone's best interest to make repairs to ensure, without a question, the best possible permanent solution.

"Immediately following the suspension of racing on May 12, we peeled the racetrack back to its foundation. We found the base to be solid and intact but also found variations in the levels of the base that must be corrected immediately. For the last 48 hours, we have met with our consultants, industry experts, the Louisiana State Racing Commission, Louisiana HBPA, and the Jockeys' Guild to formulate a plan for correcting these issues. We are committed to apply the appropriate resources to create a permanent long-term solution."

Said Louisiana HBPA president Sean Alfortish: "While I am disappointed that racing has been suspended, I am encouraged that Evangeline Downs has made a commitment to improve the condition of the track. This will insure long-term stability for the horsemen and jockeys."

With the exception of a program that was canceled because of severe storms in south central Louisiana, there had been no other interruptions in the Evangeline meet since opening night more than a month ago.