08/12/2003 12:00AM

Dates overlap would fuel competition


The competition for horses and handle could be fierce between Louisiana Downs and Lone Star Park next year if an expanded Thoroughbred meet proposed by Louisiana Downs gets approved by state racing commissioners on Monday.

Louisiana Downs has become one of the most prosperous tracks in the region since installing 905 slot machines in May, and now officials want to reclaim the lucrative spring dates the facility raced for 24 years prior to the opening of neighboring Lone Star in April 1997.

In an application filed last week, Louisiana Downs asked for 20 more Thoroughbred dates next year, backing up its start date to April 30 from its recent end-of-June opening. The 100-date meet would run through Oct. 31.

Such a schedule would conflict with Lone Star for much of the spring - the track is set to run 63 days from April 15 to July 11 - and all of the fall. Lone Star is running a special 19-date meet from Oct. 1-31 to complement the Breeders' Cup, which it will host in 2004.

The two tracks, which have overlapped for just a few weeks each year since 1997, are located about 200 miles apart. As a result, they share a number of stables.

"Unless there is an influx of horses to the region, I think there could be the possibility of some smaller field sizes at both facilities," said Jeff Greco, general manager of Lone Star.

But, he said, an overlap could also put the two tracks in a position to strengthen the region.

"Another way to look at it is it's pretty much a year-round racing circuit here now, and it might be an opportunity where more horsemen from other parts of the country consider relocation."

Greco added that the two tracks should work together to coordinate stakes schedules and regulatory practices.

Cole Norman, the leading trainer this year at Lone Star, who has won the past five titles at Louisiana Downs, said in the event of an extended overlap he would split his stable equally between Louisiana Downs and Lone Star.

"I think for somebody like me with a large stable, it gives me more opportunity to run," he said. "If I don't have something to run at Louisiana Downs, I could run at Lone Star. It's a positive for us; more chances to run."

Louisiana Downs plans to open a permanent casino with restaurants in May 2004. When completed, Louisiana Downs will have a total of 1,500 machines.

"The more racing we do the better the slots do, and the more the slots do the better racing does," said Ray Tromba, general manager of Louisiana Downs.

Crap Shooter a likely headliner

The presence of Crap Shooter in the featured 10th race on Thursday is fitting because the six-furlong allowance looks like a real crap shoot. Most of the 10 horses in the two-other-than field look like legitimate contenders, including Crap Shooter, who returns to dirt after trying turf last out at Louisiana Downs.

High Cascade, a 5-year-old half-brother to champion sprinter Rubiano, is another who seems more than capable. He rallied from last to finish second at this level last out to the stakes-bound Gold Storm.