Updated on 09/17/2011 11:12AM

Evangeline opens on new ground

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LAFAYETTE, La. - Times are a changing at Evangeline Downs, which opens its 87-day season Friday night.

Most of the changes are readily noticeable. They include a renovated clubhouse, an expanded stakes schedule, new membership in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, an aggressive promotional and marketing campaign, and a new track announcer, Sean Beirne. Less obvious, but far more important, is what is happening 15 miles north on Interstate 49.

Ground was broken Feb. 26 at the track's new home, located on 550 acres in neighboring St. Landry Parish. The new facility will have more than 1,600 slot machines, which will allow Evangeline to join Delta Downs and Louisiana Downs as players in the state's racino business.

The casino phase of the project is slated for completion in March 2004 with the first season of racing scheduled for 2005.

In the meantime, racing will continue over the oval on which Eddie Delahoussaye, Randy Romero, Shane Sellers, and Robby Albarado began their riding careers. John Henry won his first stakes race here.

The highlight of the stakes schedule once again is the Evangeline Triple for juveniles. It comprises the D.S. "Shine" Young Futurity, the Evangeline Sales Stakes, and the Lafayette Stakes. New to the stakes calendar is the B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds May 17, with fillies getting their turn June 7 in the Frank Abadie Memorial Stakes. In addition, the purses for five other stakes races have been increased to $35,000 in order to maintain black-type status.

The wagering schedule has also been expanded to include a superfecta in each race and rolling pick threes. In addition, the minimums on all wagers has been reduced to $1.

"We wanted to take advantage of our extensive simulcast network and large pools to give our players the opportunity to have as many wagering options as possible," said Beirne, who also is the director of racing and public relations. Beirne, the track announcer for seven years at River Downs, is part of a new management team assembled by second-year general manager David Yount.

"We hope to provide our patrons with an experience that will make them want to be a part of what we are doing in St. Landry Parish," Yount said.

AT A GLANCE

EVANGELINE DOWNS

RACING SCHEDULE: 87 days; April 4 through September 1; dark Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

POST TIME: 6:45 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: General, $2; Clubhouse, $3.

SEATING: Grandstand reserved, $2; Jockey Club Dining Room, $10 Food and Beverage minimum.

PARKING: General, free; Valet, $5.

MEET HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 Estimated D.S. "Shine" Young Futurity, July 4; $75,000 Guaranteed Evangeline Mile, August 2.

LOCATION: Interstate 49, three miles north of Interstate 10 in Carencro, Louisiana just north of Lafayette.

PHONE: (337) 896-7223

INTERNET: www.evangelinedowns.com