01/01/2002 12:00AM

Delta starts with slots in offing

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Delta Downs in Vinton, La., which could open a slots casino by the end of January, begins a 56-night mixed meet Thursday with eight races for Thoroughbreds and three for Quarter Horses. The season continues through April 7, and will be followed by a 44-night Quarter Horse meet from April 18 to June 30.

The mixed meet features at least seven Thoroughbred races a night, and purses will average $80,000 a card. The stakes program is highlighted by the Jean Lafitte Futurity for Thoroughbreds April 7. Last year the Jean Lafitte, one of the first stakes of the year for 2-year-olds, was worth $102,000.

Delta officials had hoped to be operating slot machines late last year. But those plans were derailed Nov. 20 after a district judge suspended the track's gambling license, ruling that the former owner, Shawn Scott, would need to be licensed before the track could open a casino because he still had an economic interest in Delta Downs.

Boyd Gaming Corp., which purchased Delta in May, has since bought out Scott and had its gambling license restored Dec. 14. Officials must now receive final layout approval for the track's casino from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, which could happen in late January.

Trainer Doris Hebert, who won the title during the fall Thoroughbred meet that closed Dec. 30, is back for the mixed season. Other horsemen expected for the meet include Keith Bourgeois, Don Cormier Jr., Bret Thomas, and Quarter Horse trainers Janet VanBebber, Kenneth Roberts, and Beverly McNeely.

Jockey Steve Bourque, runaway winner of the track's fall Thoroughbred title, once again heads the riding colony at Delta.

Delta will race Thursday to Sunday with the exception of two holiday Monday cards on Jan. 21 and March 25. The races will be simulcast to sites in Las Vegas this meet beginning Jan. 10. Nightly post is 6:30 p.m. Central.