by Hector San Miguel
The $1-million Delta Jackpot Dec. 5 at Delta Downs generated so much exposure and money for the racetrack that it will return next year, said general manager Jack Bernsmeier, who would like to see similar big-money races at all Louisiana tracks.
The $1-million purse is the largest in the state and second largest in North America for 2-year-olds behind the $1.5-million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Bernsmeier believes Louisiana could do wonders marketing its product if all four tracks in the state work together.
"The basic million-dollar race I think is going to stay with us for a while," Bernsmeier said. "It certainly has been beneficial in our ability to get more interest in selling our simulcast signal throughout the country. It also helped in getting a lot of folks in the door, and everyone seemed to have a good time. It appears to be working. It doesn't mean that we won't continue to change it up just a little bit.
"We are a little bitty track that has been a little bitty track for a long time. You struggle on how do you get to be known. We hoped that doing the race has legs longer than one day."
The Jackpot generated record total handle of more than $2.7 million for the 30-year-old track purchased by Boyd Gaming in 2001. "For one race, it was by a landslide a record," Bernsmeier said. "We feel good about it. We will just keep building on it and building on it."
The 1,495 slot machines at Delta Downs have generated more than $214 million in gross revenue and $32.2 million for purses in the last 20 months. Daily average purses have gone from $30,000 to $200,000.
Bernsmeier said he would like to see other tracks in the state offer similar purses so Louisiana can attract more owners and patrons to the horse business.
"I think that we all could do more especially if we work together a little bit more on some of these activities in promoting horse racing in Louisiana," Bernsmeier said. "I think ultimately that's the goal."
He also said he would like to see all Louisiana tracks--the others are Evangeline Downs, Fair Grounds, and Louisiana Downs--offer a stakes with a $1-million purse.
"I think there are some great opportunities out there," Bernsmeier said. "We are getting the word out and we are trying to create some enthusiasm for it. There is some version of a triple crown that could potentially end up being in Louisiana. I think all of the tracks could participate.
"Everybody could get the benefit out of it. The state could benefit from it. I think we could probably create yet more interest working all together on those types of things than doing it one by one."
Bernsmeier said the fact slot machines would be at all four tracks in the state by next year makes it a good time to look into a statewide endeavor.
"That's not a plan that's just about Delta," Bernsmeier said. "If we had more and more of the region or the country thinking Louisiana racing, and more people interested in it, I think we would all benefit. I think we have the potential for that probably more now and in the near future than ever before."
Thoroughbred racing continues through March 27, 2004 at Delta Downs. The Feb. 7 program, dubbed "Premier Night," will feature $1 million in purses for 10 state-bred events.
Bernsmeier said work continues on the $50-million expansion project at the Vinton track. It includes a 10-story, 208-room hotel and expanded slots parlor. The hotel is being built next to the racetrack so one side of it will face the track to allow patrons to watch the races from their rooms.