10/03/2001 12:00AM

Delta Downs hikes purses to record level


There's a new player in the Mid-South. Delta Downs in Vinton, La., will offer a record $125,000 a day in purses for its upcoming fall Thoroughbred meet, which puts the track in a position to compete for horses with neighboring Sam Houston Race Park in Houston. The new purse structure also allows Delta Downs to lure lower-level claimers from Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The fall meet, which runs 26 days from Nov. 17 to Dec. 30, will be Delta Downs's first under the ownership of Boyd Gaming, which owns 11 casino properties around the country, including the Stardust in Las Vegas. The new group is in the midst of making $30 million in improvements to the track, and is currently awaiting a license to open a slots casino from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

Whether or not Delta Downs is operating slots by opening night, the purse structure stands. Director of racing Chris Warren said open allowance races at the track this meet will be worth $20,000 to $22,000, while one-other-than and two-other-than allowance races will be worth $16,000 to $17,000. Meanwhile, maiden special weight races will carry a purse of $15,000, with the track's bottom-level, $3,500 claiming horses, running for a minimum purse of $6,000. Condition books are due out by Tuesday.

The new purse structure will make Delta Downs competitive on all fronts with Sam Houston, which is located two hours west. Purses there will average $100,000 a card when the track opens for 82 days of racing Nov. 1. Delta Downs should also attract lower-level horses from Fair Grounds, which opens Nov. 22. "We won't be hurting for horses," said Delta Downs racing secretary Trent McIntosh, who has received stall applications from several new faces, including trainers in Oklahoma and Texas.

Warren said Delta Downs has made more than $1.5 million in improvements to its stable area. The track's six furlong oval has been resurfaced, and the barns have been repaired and painted.

Warren joined Delta Downs in September. He formerly served as director of racing for Delaware Park, and after slots were installed at that track, he watched purses rise from $60,000 to $250,000 a day over the course of three to four years. "That place went from night to day," said Warren. "I don't know what's going to happen here, but the location is real good, close to the border of Texas."

The fall meet will be the first Thoroughbred meet Delta Downs has held in about seven years. Last year, the track paid an average $40,000 a day in purses to Thoroughbreds during its mixed meet. Following the fall meet, Delta Downs will run its mixed meet from Jan. 3 to April 7, as well as a Quarter Horse meet from April 18 to June 30.

Hall of Fame night at Retama

Retama Park near San Antonio will present a program of eight statebred stakes Saturday night to complement inductions to the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame. The richest race on the program is the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame Stakes, a 1 1/16 miles turf race that is expected to draw Gold Nugget.

Before the races start, inductions will be made during a trackside gala. Those to be enshrined are Clarence Scharbauer, who with his wife, Dorothy, owned 1987 Horse of the Year Alysheba; Colonel W. T. Waggoner, whose Arlington Downs near Dallas was one of the nation's most successful tracks in the 1930's; Joe Straus, Sr., a driving force behind the parimutuel movement in Texas; Emerson Woodward, who raced 1941 Kentucky Oaks winner Valdina Myth; Groovy, champion sprinter in 1987 and the richest Texas-bred in history with earnings of $1.3 million; and Special Effort, a World Champion Quarter Horse who won the All-American, Rainbow and Kansas Futurities in 1981.