Old Gives Way to New at Evangeline Downs

Edited press release

Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino, the first racino built from scratch, will kick off its first Thoroughbred meet April 7 with record overnight purse distribution and an expanded stakes schedule.

Evangeline Downs moved from Carencro, La., about 15 miles north to Opelousas. Slot machines have been operating at the new location for more than a year, but live racing didn't commence until February, when a Quarter Horse meet began.

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.

"The energy and excitement levels are at an all-time high," track general manager Mike Howard said in a release. "We have a full barn area for the first time and full fields for (the first two programs). We are expecting our volumes to increase significantly. We are coming off our first Quarter Horse season at our new facility and are prepared to move forward with 40th and best season of Thoroughbred racing."

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 slots went online Dec. 19, 2003. Thoroughbred purses have increased 140% from their 2003 levels of $63,000 per day levels.

"Purses are the mechanism that drives racing," said David Yount, Evangeline Downs executive director of racing operations. "Higher purses bring better horses, which bring fuller fields and more competitive racing, generating larger handles. It all feeds off itself. Last year, we averaged 9.45 starters per race, one of the highest in the country. Our ultimate goal is to have the largest field sizes in the country and to be one of the premier racing facilities in North America."

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.

The first three programs (April 7-9) will kick off the anniversary celebration. Donald Comeaux, who rode Blue Vee, the first winner at Evangeline Downs in Carencro April 28, 1966, will be in the winner's circle for the first race presentation. He will be joined by Pete LeBlanc, son of Blue Vee's trainer, Pierre LeBlanc, and other family members.

Jason Boulet, the new racing secretary at Evangeline Downs, is the grandson of Pierre LeBlanc.