11/14/2001 1:00AM

Bourque heading to Delta Downs

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The all-time winningest jockey at Sam Houston Race Park, Steve Bourque, who ranks in a tie for third in the current standings, will move his tack to Delta Downs in Vinton, La., after he rides his final local card Friday night in Houston.

Bourque's home is about an hour from Delta Downs, which opens Saturday, and with daily purses at that meet expected to be more than doubled to $85,000 from the $35,000 reflected in the first condition book, is financially feasible for the rider to return to Louisiana.

"I miss my family," said Bourque, who has won three riding titles at Sam Houston, and four at Delta Downs. "I've got a daughter and a wife, and I don't feel comfortable being this far away from them. I love Houston. It's one of my best places to ride because of the good surface and horsemen, and I will miss it. But I need to be surrounded by family."

The rider lost both of his parents this year between May and October.

Study finds $6 billion impact

The horse and greyhound racing industry in Texas accounts for nearly $6 billion in annual spending, 52,000 permanent jobs, and $160 million in tax revenue, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Texas Racing Agri-Industry Council.

Formed last year, TRAC is made up of the state's horse and greyhound owners, racetracks, and breed associations. Its goal is to educate state leaders about parimutuel racing, and seek favorable legislation during lawmaking sessions in Texas.

The study also found that competition from Internet gambling sites and casinos in neighboring states like Louisiana has cost Texas $1.4 billion in reduced spending and 13,050 jobs.

And that impact figures to grow. In the near future, for example, slot machines will be installed at Louisiana Downs near Shreveport, La., and Delta Downs. Both tracks are located just over the border from Texas.

In other findings, 6.6 percent of the total agricultural employment in the state was attributed to racing and breeding operations. The study was conducted by The Perryman Group.

* Front Nine and Miss Ritz, who swept their respective divisions of the Friendship Stakes last weekend at Louisiana Downs by open lengths, are both to make their next starts at Sam Houston on Dec. 1. Front Nine is being pointed for the $50,000 Groovy, a six-furlong race for 2-year-old colts bred in Texas, while Miss Ritz is pointing for the female version of that race, the $50,000 Bara Lass.

* John Curran, announcer at Delaware Park, and Fred Faour, assistant sports editor at the Houston Chronicle, will join fans Bill Bolch and Harry Striz in representing Sam Houston in the Daily Racing Form/ NTRA Handicapping Championship in January after winning a place on the track's team during a qualifying tournament last Saturday. Bolch beat out 86 others to win the local contest in a tight finish over Curran.