11/29/2005 1:00AM

Delta meet set for Jan. 18 start


Delta Downs in Vinton, La., has been working feverishly to repair damage inflicted by Hurricane Rita, and expects to conduct a 40-date meet from Jan. 18 to March 25. The Louisiana Racing Commission approved the dates during a meeting at Delta on Monday.

The hurricane, which hit on Sept. 24, forced the transfer of some of the track's dates to Evangeline Downs, which opens a 26-date meet on Thursday. Delta was originally scheduled to race for 88 dates beginning Oct. 21.

Delta was able to reopen its casino Nov. 3, and expects to have 15 barns ready to receive horses as early as Jan. 11, said Jack Bernsmeier, general manager of Delta, which is owned by Boyd Gaming.

"It's really important [to run this meet] for several reasons," said Bernsmeier. "One, it's a part of what we do, and having only been at this for about three years now, we didn't want to lose an entire year of Thoroughbred racing and then try to rebuild our market share. And, certainly and not least, we have about 60 racing-related employees that we'd really like to get back to work."

Delta lost 20 of its 22 barns in the storm. The stable area will be able to house about 900 horses in January, as opposed to its typical 1,320. Bernsmeier estimated purses will average $184,000 a day. The track will race four nights a week, from Wednesday through Saturday.