01/11/2005 1:00AM

Delta Jackpot likely back on Friday card

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The $1 million Delta Jackpot for 2-year-olds, which will be contested as a graded stakes for the first time in 2005, will likely return to a Friday card this year after Delta Downs officials experimented with a Saturday running in 2004.

First post for the Jackpot card is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. Central, keeping with the earlier start tried in 2004. The Jackpot, now a Grade 3, is scheduled for the first weekend in December.

"We may change our minds yet, but we decided we will probably take the race back to Friday, and instead of starting at 3 p.m. we will start around an hour later," said Jack Bernsmeier, general manager of Delta, located in Vinton, La. "We ran into too much competition for the airtime Saturday."

Delta, a small track, handled a track-record $2.4 million when its Jackpot card was held on a Friday in 2003, compared with $2.1 million last year, when it was run on a Saturday.

"The good news is we picked up a fair amount of traffic from California that we didn't have at all [in 2003], and that was good," Bernsmeier said. "As far as other tracks, we got less from some of those customers, who had a lot of other options. We might own a little more of the traffic on a Friday."

By keeping a twilight post, Bernsmeier is hopeful the race will fall at an opportune time for horseplayers on both coasts. Along with the day the race is run, the starting preferences for the Jackpot, which in the past have catered to the highest earners, will likely change for 2004. The race overfilled last year.

"We're looking at graded winners preferred, graded earnings next, and then total earnings," said Chris Warren, director of racing for Delta.

Delta, which installed slots in February 2002, introduced the Jackpot by the end of that year with a purse of $500,000. It was won by Outta Here. The purse was doubled to $1 million in 2003, won by Mr. Jester. Last year, the winner was Texcess.

Bernsmeier said a hotel being built at Delta is scheduled to open in March. The facility will include an entertainment arena, and among other concerts throughout the year, a yet-to-be-determined act will be brought in to coincide with the Jackpot.

Racing referendum in South Texas

The small town of Pflugerville, Texas, located about 10 miles north of Austin, will hold a non-binding referendum on Feb. 5 to get residents' feedback on the proposed construction of a $15 million racetrack in the community. The Austin Jockey Club project leaders include Bryan Brown, chief executive officer at Retama Park near San Antonio.

Last week, about 70 residents of Pflugerville turned out for a two-hour forum regarding the proposed racetrack. Pflugerville is a bedroom community with a population of 26,000.

"It was to discuss the pros and cons," said David Buesing, city manager of Pflugerville. "Both sides got to present. We're trying to get the word out, to make some informed voters."

The ballot asks whether the resident supports or opposes the Austin Jockey Club. At present, the Pflugerville City Council is in support of the Austin Jockey Club.

"We're a growing community," Buesing said. "They anticipate [our population] being 52,000 in the next five years."

The Austin Jockey Club holds a Class 2 license from the Texas Racing Commission, and has asked the board for permission to move that license to Pflugerville. Plans for a racetrack at a previous site did not materialize. At its last meeting, in November, the TRC voted to defer consideration on the request until August 2005.

Manor Downs, a Class 2 track owned and operated by a separate entity, is located near the proposed site, about 10 miles east of Austin.

Test run at Evangeline

Evangeline Downs will run 20 training races for Quarter Horses over its new surface on Saturday night, and with the races open to the public, the "program" will be a test run for the opening of the meet on Feb. 5. Evangeline, which now operates a slots casino, has moved its operations, including simulcasting, to Opelousas, La.

"From an operations standpoint this will give our entire staff a chance to get a feel for the new facility," said David Yount, director of racing operations for Evangeline. "We are planning on treating it like a race night, with the exception of wagering on the training races."

There are 81 horses expected to start in the training races, all eligible for the Mardi Gras Futurity or Mardi Gras Derby next month at Evangeline. Trials for those races will be held on Feb. 5.

Mexico City meet opens Feb. 4

Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City will open its 2005 meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses on Feb. 4. There will be 67 stakes run during the season, which will run through Dec. 18.

Among the track's major races are the Handicap de las Americas in May, and the Mexican Derby in July. Lone Star Park is a former racing adviser to Hipodromo. Lone Star had a contract through 2003.