09/02/2003 11:00PM

Evangeline: Slight declines at meet


Evangeline Downs near Lafayette, La., closed out its final meet without slot machines on Monday and experienced small declines in average daily attendance and handle. The track will open a slots casino at its new site in Opelousas in March 2004, but will race at its existing location for one more year.

The casino, expected to house about 1,600 machines, will start supplementing purses next year. Plans for the new site include a one-mile dirt track and a seven-furlong turf course. Long-range developments could include a convention center and hotel.

The track, which is owned by Peninsula Gaming, will become the third in the state to operate slots, after Delta Downs and Louisiana Downs.

Evangeline handled $1,246,709 a night on its live races during its 87-day meet that closed Monday. Last year, the track ran 82 days and nightly handle averaged $1,323,150.

As for attendance, this meet the track averaged 1,389 patrons a night compared to 1,437 in 2002. Daily purses during the season averaged $65,000.

"We experienced a slow entry period throughout the months of July and August that we fully expected," said David Yount, general manager of Evangeline. "Horsemen rested their horses in preparation for bigger pots in the fall at Delta Downs. With shorter field sizes comes a decrease in handle."

Yount went on to say that the track still averaged nine horses per race.

C.J. Woodley won his second consecutive riding title with 98 wins and mount earnings of $680,325, while Keith Bourgeois led all trainers with 65 wins and stable earnings of $492,856. The horse of the meet was Fergie's Showtime, a $5,000 claimer who won 7 races from 10 starts this meet at Evangeline for trainer Robert Huval.

* Scott Zeringue has been hired as director of marketing for Evangeline.