04/16/2012 11:31AM

Evangeline Downs: Big fields, turf racing kick off meeting on Wednesday

SunnyT Photo
Evangeline Downs attracted 122 entries for each of its first three cards.

OPELOUSAS, La. – Racing returns to Evangeline Downs on Wednesday evening with a retooled stakes schedule, a reinvigorated turf course, a host of new promotions, and hopes that its ability to attrract large field sizes continues. The 84-day stand will be run on a Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule with first race post time slated for 5:40 p.m. Central.

Once again anchoring the 23-event stakes program will be Louisiana Legends Night. which will be on June 30. The all-Louisiana-bred night will feature eight stakes worth a combined $775,000. Missing this season on Legends Night are the two divisions of the D. S. “Shine” Young Futurity. The pair of $100,000-added 2-year-old events instead will stand alone on the evening of July 28.

“We moved them back a few weeks to give horsemen a little more time to get their 2-year-olds ready,” said Evangeline racing secretary Coleman Lloyd. “In years past, when the Jean Lafitte at Delta was still run early in the year and some other races for 2-year-olds were in the spring, everybody had their babies ready early. Nowadays it seems, everyone is waiting longer and longer.”

Other stakes highlights include the John Henry at 1 1/16 miles on the grass April 28 and the meeting’s richest event, the $125,000 Evangeline Mile, set for Aug. 11.

Lloyd also said the turf course is ready for action and will be used immediately. Both Wednesday night’s opening program and Thursday’s card will feature action on the grass.

“The turf course is in great shape,” he said. “We’ve had some rain this spring unlike last year, and the winter was mild here as it was for most of the Midwest. We are ready to go.”

In an effort to liven things up in the grandstand, the track has retained the Calzone Agency to aid in its local marketing efforts. Each night of racing will feature a different theme. Wednesday nights will be ladies night with a promotion called Mares and Martinis. The boys will get their turn on Thursday evenings with Studs and Suds. Friday will be Date Night, while Saturday has been designated Family Night with food and drink specials each evening.

Evangeline’s bread and butter continues to lie in its field sizes. Self-proclaimed as “Home of the largest fields” several years ago, Evangeline is living up to that billing to begin the season. The 11-race programs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights each attracted 122 horses. Overnight purses to began the meeting exceed $200,000 per program.

The opening day feature, the $50,000 Inaugural Stakes, drew a field of eight 3-year-olds who will go six furlongs. Immaculate, a maiden winner at Santa Anita earlier this year, will vie for the role of favorite along with the stakes-placed Courtesy Cat.

◗ Evangeline Downs and partner Sportech Racing have launched an account-wagering service called BetLouisiana.com. The service will allow bettors in some areas of Louisiana to wager on and view horse racing from more than 65 tracks nationwide on their computers or mobile devices, including Evangeline Downs, Louisiana Downs, Fair Grounds, and Delta Downs.