10/16/2007 11:00PM

Expanded meet to fill backstretch

EmailDelta Downs is not lacking for horses. The Vinton, La., track has expanded its winter-spring meet by about a week at the request of horsemen, who have overstuffed the entry box for Friday night's opening card. Each of the 10 races on the program drew a full field of 10, including the featured $50,000 Zydeco Stakes.

Delta is scheduled to race 93 dates. Its season follows an Evangeline Downs meet that closed Sept. 3. Delta will race through March 29.

"We're running five more days than last year," said Chris Warren, director of racing and simulcasting for Delta. "We started a little earlier, so the horsemen would not have as much downtime between Evangeline and the meet."

Delta can house 1,200 horses on its backstretch, a stable area expected to be full following the close of Louisiana Downs on Saturday. Delta will also draw starters from Evangeline Downs Training Center, located 90 miles away in Lafayette. There are 900 to 1,000 horses based at the training center, according to Trent McIntosh, racing secretary at Delta.

"What we've got going for us is we've got probably 3,500 sets of papers on file," he said.

Delta is racing Wednesday through Saturday night, with average daily purses budgeted at just more than $200,000 a day, Warren said. The track's 37-race stakes program is led by the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 7. The race had its first graded running last year, with Birdbirdistheword winning over Pirates Deputy and Xchanger.

"Xchanger helped us do good with the race last year," Warren said of the colt, who went on to win the Grade 3 Barbaro and has been pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

Warren said the pre-entry fee for the Jackpot has been reduced from $2,500 to $1,000 this year. Pre-entries for the Jackpot are due Nov. 21. The race will share a card with the $300,000 Delta Princess for 2-year-old fillies at a mile and two other stakes worth $75,000 each. Valued at $1.4 million, the four stakes will make for the richest card of the meet at Delta.

The track is also home to Louisiana Premier Night, a program of 10 stakes for Louisiana-breds worth a cumulative $1 million. The card is set for Feb. 2. All told, the Delta stakes program this meet will be worth close to $4 million. It gets started with the Zydeco, a five-furlong sprint that drew stakes winners All Wired Up, High Strike Zone, and Chief What It Is.

Patrons returning to Delta will find a new restaurant on the apron. In other changes, Delta has upgraded its track drainage system, and put up a new outside rail. Delta will again offer free streaming video of its races on its website, www.deltadowns.com.

Jorge Lara, who will win the training title at Louisiana Downs, is scheduled to have a division of horses at Delta. Other new trainers include Greg Tracy, the brother of trainer Ray Tracy, and Don Roberson. The horsemen join an established roster that includes defending training champ Keith Bourgeois.

Curt Bourque, Kerwin Clark, Todd Dupuis, Shane Laviolette, and Gerard Melancon are among the riders expected to compete this meet at Delta.