04/15/2013 1:57PM

Evangeline Downs opens first meet under Boyd Gaming


OPELOUSAS, La. – Evangeline Downs begins its first season under new owner Boyd Gaming on Wednesday night. The 84-night stand will run on a Wednesday through Saturday night schedule through Sept. 7. First post each evening will be 5:40 p.m. Central.

Purchased late last year, Evangeline joins fellow Boyd track Delta Downs in Vinton, La., and gives the gaming giant a full 50 percent stake in state’s total number of racing dates.

“We are very excited about joining the Boyd family,” said Steve Darbonne, Evangeline’s director of racing operations. “Together with Delta, we call ourselves Boyd Louisiana.”

Darbonne went on to say that working in tandem with a sister racetrack could be beneficial to both parties.

“While we certainly want to keep the identities of both properties since they are unique, there is and will be considerable crossover,” he said. “Whether it be the sharing of marketing strategies or other thoughts and ideas, two tracks working for the same company makes a lot of sense.”

The sharing concept is not restricted to the front offices of the two tracks. Evangeline and Delta have long have had much of the same horses and horsemen. That Delta recently concluded a successful fall and winter season that produced a 13 percent increase in total handle from a year ago was not lost on Darbonne.

“Delta had a great season, and we hope to carry that momentum forward,” he said. “Our numbers were up last season as well, so the stage is set for a successful meeting.”

Numbers are something Evangeline has excelled at in recent seasons. In recent years the track has attracted some of the largest fields in the country, and it averaged 9.29 starters per race in 2012. More of the same appears to be in store this year.

“So far, so good,” said racing secretary Coleman Lloyd after looking over the 127 horses on the opening evening’s 11-race program. “We’ll card 11 or 12 races a night until Louisiana Downs opens in a couple of weeks. Our horsemen love to run, and we are going to give them every opportunity to do so. We are going to start using the turf course right off the bat as well. The winter was really mild here, and the course is in great shape and ready to go.”

The first of the season’s 23 stakes is slated for Wednesday night with the running of the $50,000 Inaugural Stakes. The six-furlong affair drew an evenly matched field of 3-year-olds and will go as the 10th race of the evening.

Lattin Devil has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Inaugural and will return to the distance that produced a six-length win in optional-claiming company at Fair Grounds in mid February. Trained by Jorge Lara, Lattin Devil was last seen finishing fifth in the two-turn Pelican Stakes at Delta after bolting on the first turn. Donnie Meche will handle the riding chores.

◗ As a part of the season-opening activities, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron and nationally known track announcer Dave Johnson will be on hand to meet racing fans Friday and Saturday. Johnson also will broadcast two live radio shows from Evangeline Downs on Saturday.

Johnson and his co-host Bill Finley will first broadcast their weekly “Down The Stretch” show on Sirius XM from 8-11 a.m. local time. The two will be joined by McCarron from 4-5 p.m. for a special “Kentucky Derby Preview Show.”