03/27/2006 1:00AM

Big fields the norm as new meet gets started


Little will change from the conclusion of the special winter meeting on Saturday at Evangeline Downs to the beginning of the regularly scheduled spring-summer stand, which gets under way on Wednesday in Opelousas, La. That seamless transition is just fine by David Yount, director of racing operations.

To say it has been an eventful last 12 months at Evangeline would be an understatement. From the excitement of the inaugural season at the new facility here, which replaced the old Evangeline Downs in Carencro, to the suspension of racing operations early in the summer in order to overhaul the racing surface, to the efforts of last fall and winter to salvage racing from elsewhere in the state that was eliminated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this place has seen a little of everything.

The winter meeting was scheduled to be conducted at Delta Downs, but was run at Evangeline because of hurricane damage at Delta.

While Yount won't miss the turmoil, one thing that he does look forward to is the continued popularity of Evangeline Downs, both at the betting windows and through the entry box. The average number of starters for the winter meeting was "close to 11 a race," Yount said, a figure that is impressive considering the track added an extra race per night the final month and finished the meeting running 12-race cards.

"The response has just been incredible," said Yount. "Our battle cry for the new facility has been we are home to the biggest fields, and that fact is playing itself out. The handle also showed a marked increase, up 6 percent from these dates that were run at Delta Downs last winter."

The meeting runs through Sept. 4.

There will be some minor changes when the meeting begins. The number of races will be scaled back to 10 a night. Yount projects paying out $185,000 to 190,000 in purses per day. The stakes program this meet will be worth $1.5 million, with the emphasis as usual on 2-year-olds.

"We had a terrific 2-year-old sale here a couple of weeks ago," said Yount. "We are really looking forward to a great crop of 2-year-olds here this season."

The graduates of that sale are eligible for the two $100,000 John Franks Memorial Stakes on Aug. 4, one for each gender.

Louisiana Legends Night, scheduled for July 1, will be the highlight of the meet. The 10-race program will be restricted to Louisiana-breds with $720,000 in purse money at stake. Anchoring the card will be the $150,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Futurity.

Among other major stakes are the $150,000 Evangeline Mile for 3-year-olds and upward on Aug. 12 and the traditional closing-day feature, the $100,000 Lafayette Stakes for 2-year-olds on Sept. 4.

At a glance:

RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday, March 29 through Monday, Sept. 4; racing conducted Wednesdays through Sundays.

POST TIME: 6:45 p.m.

HIGHLIGHTS: Louisiana Legends Night, July 1; $150,000 Evangeline Mile, Aug. 12; $100,000 Lafayette Stakes, Sept. 4.

ADMISSIONS: Grandstand, free; clubhouse, $3; Silks Dining Room, food and beverage minimum.

PARKING: General, free; valet, $5.

LOCATION: Intersection of I-49 and U.S. Highway 190, approximately 20 miles north of Lafayette, La.

ADDRESS: 2235 Creswell Lane Ext. Opelousas, La., 70570

PHONE: 337-594-3000

INTERNET: www.evangelinedowns.com

2006 stakes schedule

Sat., April 1Inaugural3YO6 furlongs$75,000
Fri., April 7Hallowed Dreams3YO F5 1/2 furlongs75,000
Sat.,May 6John Henry 3YO & Up1 mile75,000
Sat.,May 20Tellike F&M, 3YO & Up 6 furlongs75,000
Sat.,June 3Need for Speed 3YO & Up5 furlongs75,000
Sat.,July 1Mervin Muniz Starter3YO & Up1 mile, 70 yards40,000
Sat.,July 1Gene Norman StarterF&M, 3YO & Up1 mile40,000
Sat.,July 1Attaway Darbonne St.3YO & Up5 furlongs40,000
Sat.,July 1Pola Benoit4YO & Up1 1/16 miles75,000
Sat.,July 1J. Archie SebastianF&M, 4YO & Up1 mile, 70 yards75,000
Sat.,July 1Junius Delahoussaye3YO & Up6 furlongs75,000
Sat.,July 1Pierre LeblancF&M, 3YO & Up6 furlongs75,000
Sat.,July 1B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn3YO1 mile75,000
Sat.,July 1Frank "Buddy" Abadie3YO F1 mile75,000
Sat.,July 1D.S. "Shine" Young 2YO5 furlongs150,000
Fri., Aug 4John Franks Sales (F)2YO F6 furlongs100,000
Sat., Aug 5John Franks Sales (C&G)2YO6 furlongs100,000
Sat.,Aug 12Evangeline Mile3YO & Up1 mile150,000
Fri., Sept 1Matron F&M, 3YO & Up1 mile75,000
Mon., Sept 4Lafayette2YO6 furlongs100,000