New Evangeline Downs Breaks From Gate

The Louisiana horse racing industry continued its forward movement the evening of April 7 when the 7-year-old gelding Attakapa, appropriately bred in Louisiana, won the first Thoroughbred race at the new Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino.

Evangeline Downs is celebrating its 40th season of racing, though the first 39 were held in Carencro, about 15 miles south of Opelousas, where the new facility is located. The old Evangeline Downs is now a training center.

Attakapa, by Forty Won, is owned and trained by Merrick Papillion and was ridden by Brian Hernandez. He won the one-mile event for $4,000 claimers in 1:41 2/5 on a surface made from the same material used at the old Evangeline Downs.

The winner's circle festivities for the first race featured Don Comeaux, who won the first race at the old Evangeline Downs with Blue Vee in 1966. Comeaux, who began riding at bush tracks in Louisiana and now lives in Arkansas, retired from riding in 1968 to work in the oil fields.

The only early glitch was a malfunctioning infield tote board, though wagering wasn't impacted and the card proceeded on schedule.

With the opening of the new facility, Louisiana now has another mile track--the old facility has a seven-furlong surface. The new Evangeline Downs also will have a turf course in 2006.

Evangeline Downs is the first racino in the United States built from the ground up. Slot machines went online in December 2003 while the grandstand/clubhouse was under construction.

The Thoroughbred meet will span 88 days through Sept. 5, with racing Thursdays through Saturdays, and Mondays, with first post at 6:45 p.m. CDT.

Due in large part to slots revenue, purses are up 25% from 2004 levels in the first condition book. Average daily purses are set at $150,000, compared with $120,000 at the end of the 2004 season. Under Louisiana law, 15% of slots revenue goes to purses and breed development.

The stakes schedule features six new events and a total purse hike of $295,000. New on the schedule is Louisiana Legends Night, which will feature eight stakes, most of them for state-breds, July 2.