11/09/2004 12:00AM

Fat purses a boon to statebreds

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The inaugural Quarter Horse meet at Louisiana Downs is setting records before its first race is run.

When the meet opens Thursday afternoon, it will offer the richest per-day purses ever for a Quarter Horse meet, with more than $4.4 million being paid in purses over the 20 days, not including money paid into futurities and derbies by horsemen.

The season runs through Dec. 12 on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule, with a first post time of noon Central.

The purse fund has been built from $4 million generated by slot machines since the track opened its casino in May 2003.

The meet will offer a lucrative program for Louisiana-breds. The track's racing secretary, Pat Pope, said that Louisiana-bred $3,500 claimers will run at $14,500 purses, and Louisiana-bred allowance horses will compete for purses up to $35,000. This compares with purses of $4,500 and $15,000, respectively, for non-Louisiana-breds.

Louisiana Downs plans on holding a Quarter Horse meet annually, Pope said.

"We just don't know the dates or the number of dates for next year," he said. "But there will be a meet."

Kenny Roberts, Janet VanBebber, and Heath Taylor, three of the four leading trainers of Quarter Horse winners in 2003, will have stables at Louisiana Downs.

Taylor will bring a multiple Grade 1 winner, Vals Fortune; the Texas Classic Derby winner Sixes Royal; and the All American Derby third-place finisher, Hadtobenuts, to Louisiana Downs.

VanBebber will have 40 stalls ontrack and will ship horses, including 12 Louisiana-breds, between Louisiana Downs and her Giddings, Texas, ranch.

Louisiana Downs management, said VanBebber, has "really shown a lot of interest in the horsemen, and we are off to a good start."

Also bringing horses to Louisiana Downs is Dwayne "Sleepy" Gilbreath, a two-time winner of the All American Futurity.

Jockeys headed to Louisiana Downs include Gilbert Ortiz, John Hamilton, and Alvin "Bubba" Brossette, all in the top 10 in races won in 2003.

The stakes program starts with Louisiana-breds in the $436,346 Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association Futurity on Saturday afternoon, when Jess a Feature goes for his fourth straight victory.

A winner of 6 of 8 starts, Jess a Feature defeated Louisiana-breds in the LQHBA Sale Futurity during his current winning streak. He has also proven to be competitive against open company with a second-place effort in the Grade 2 Blue Ribbon Futurity.

Jess Cash This, who was eighth in the LQHBA Sale Futurity, rebounded from that race to be the fastest qualifier to Saturday's LQHBA Futurity. He won his 400-yard trial in 19.79 seconds to defeat the second-fastest qualifier, El Man, by a half-length.

The meet's closing weekend, Dec. 11-12, will be highlighted by open runners in the inaugural Harrah's Entertainment Futurity and the Harrah's Entertainment Derby, each with a $100,000-added purse.