12/29/2004 1:00AM

Evangeline track passes test

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Evangeline Downs opened its new one-mile track for training Wednesday morning, and early reports suggest it might be a faster surface than the old seven-furlong site in Carencro, La.

Evangeline, which installed slot machines in December 2003, has moved its operations to Opelousas. It is the first racetrack and casino to be built from the ground up, according to officials with Evangeline.

Kenneth Roberts, who won recent Quarter Horse training titles at Evangeline and Louisiana Downs, sent out the first horse to gallop over the new track, stakes winner Slinky Blinky. Overall, Roberts trained 13 horses over the new Evangeline surface Wednesday.

"The horses moved real good on it," said Roberts, who accompanied the first set with a pony. "The track feels like it's a little lighter. When the horses were galloping, they were moving more freely. It didn't seem heavy. When they galloped, you couldn't really hear them. Next week we'll have a lot better judgment on it when we let the horses [work]."

Roberts has 35 horses stabled at the new Evangeline, which has 22 barns. The new track is made up of the same material as the old track, said David Yount, director of racing operations for Evangeline.

"It is a little lighter than our surface down south, but overall, I believe we have copied it and actually improved upon it," said Yount.

The first day of racing at the new Evangeline will be Feb. 5, with trials for the Mardi Gras Quarter Horse Futurity. The Quarter Horse meet will begin Feb. 24 and run through March 27. An 88-date meet for Thoroughbreds will begin April 7.

Turf racing is scheduled to begin at the new Evangeline in 2006.