04/04/2010 11:00PM

Evangeline opening with confidence to buck trends

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OPELOUSAS, La. - Evangeline Downs will have a new post time when the 2010 season gets under way on Wednesday evening, but little else has changed from last season. It is easy to see why Evangeline is content to play a pat hand.

Although the industry-wide slump pervaded in 2009, the declines at Evangeline were minimal compared with those of many racing centers across the nation. Buoyed by slots-infused purses and an ample supply of horses, Evangeline officials are optimistic heading into the 2010 stand.

"We are pretty happy about where we are," said the track's racing secretary, Coleman Lloyd. "Our slot revenue is off a little bit but seems to be holding steady. I was able to maintain purses from last year. The first condition book this year is exactly the same as 2009 with regards to the money we are giving away - no difference."

The 88-day season runs through Labor Day Monday, Sept. 6. The track will race Wednesday through Saturday with exception of closing night. The first post is at 5:40 p.m. Central, 40 minutes earlier than the last few seasons.

"We moved up post time for simulcast purposes, of course," Lloyd said. "That is the name of the game these days. By starting a little earlier, we are looking for a boost from the East Coast. With our earlier start time, we end a little earlier and should allow us to retain a few more players."

Lloyd's strongest card to play continues to be the large numbers of horses he has to work with. A total of 117 were entered to contest the 10 races on the opening-night program. The track led the nation in number of horses per race last year at almost 11, and seems poised to do it again this year.

"It is unbelievable," he said one day last week looking over the morning's entries. "We had almost 3,000 applications for stalls, and with just under a 1,000 on the grounds, we had a tough job allotting. Fortunately for us, there are another 1,000 at the old Evangeline, which is now a training center. Plus, we have all the farms around here. We are right in the middle of Louisiana horse country."