09/05/2008 12:00AM

Evangeline business rises


Evangeline Downs may have lost its traditional closing-night Labor Day program to Hurricane Gustav, but the meeting posted all-time highs in average nightly handle, single-night handle, average field size, and purse distribution.

Handle for the 84-night meeting averaged $1.73 million, an increase of more than 3 percent from last year's record. Included in the total handle was the $2,444,675 bet on the evening of May 3, the date of this year's Kentucky Derby. That figure is the most money ever wagered here on a single program at the track.

The average field size increased to 10.19 starters - the highest in the nation - up from last year's 10.02. In part because of those large fields, average purse distribution this season was $216,800, a 10 percent increase from a year ago.

Colby Hernandez, younger brother of the 2004 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, B.J. Hernandez, won the riding title with 117 wins, and perennial training champ Keith Bourgeois notched another title by sending out 79 winners.