10/01/2008 12:00AM

Fields swell and handle follows

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - If there is safety in numbers, Louisiana Downs must be one of the most secure racing venues in the land these days.

Taking full advantage of its position on the calendar as the only one of the state's four racetracks currently conducting a meeting, the track has gotten overwhelming response from horsemen at the entry box lately. Friday's 10-race program alone drew 172 entries, counting also-eligibles and horses excluded from races that overfilled.

"I don't know if that is some kind of record or not," said the track's longtime assistant racing secretary Russell Ramstad. "But it is a lot of horses, plus the quality is there. Purses on the afternoon will be $173,000."

"Field sizes are definitely up this year," said the vice president of racing operations, Mark Midland. "We were averaging 8.6 runners per race at this time last year, and so far this season our fields have averaged 9.1.

"Daily handle is also up. But we have actually run fewer races. Comparing the same days from this meet to last year, we have run 707 races as compared to 718. Handle is up 10 percent ontrack, 2 percent offtrack, and 3 percent overall. The field sizes obviously have a lot to do with that success, and the first place we can see that is in the numbers, as customers have strongly supported the live product and full fields this year."

Large fields in the state are not unique to Louisiana Downs. Evangeline Downs, in the south central region of the state, has led the nation in field size the last two years. The 2008 Evangeline season that ended on Labor Day averaged 10.2 runners per race.

Traditional migration

Several outfits that were based at Evangeline have, as usual, found their way north to race at Louisiana Downs. The Louisiana Downs stand concludes on Oct. 18, with Delta Downs, in the southwest corner of the state, slated to open Oct. 29.

Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans will forgo its traditional Thanksgiving opening and instead will open two weeks earlier on Nov. 14. Jason Boulet, former racing secretary at Evangeline, is now at the helm at Fair Grounds.

* Service Hawk, winner of his last two races, both on the main track, takes his act to the grass in Friday's optional claiming feature. The 5-year-old Service Hawk, trained by James Garroutte, is a seven-time winner, including two victories on the turf. He will be ridden by Francisco Torres.