09/03/2002 12:00AM

Horsemen anticipate a boom with Harrah's


BOSSIER CITY, La. - A number of leading trainers at Louisiana Downs believe Harrah's Entertainment, which last week signed a letter of intent to purchase controlling interest in the track, has the kind of financial clout necessary to bring Louisiana Downs back to the good times it experienced in the 1980's.

"I feel as though we've got a major player taking over the ownership here," said trainer Larry Robideaux Jr.

Slot machines will be used to build up purses at the track, and horsemen believe Harrah's, an operator of 26 casinos nationwide, will be aggressive in installing the machines, which won passage in a local referendum in 1999.

"Harrah's will get it done," said trainer Andrew Leggio, who has raced at Louisiana Downs since 1974. "They're in the business of making money, and they'll have those slots up and running. I look forward to seeing the place booming again like the old days."

"I think they're strong enough to get things done," said trainer Troy Young. "They'll spend the money to get the slots going, and they'll come in here and renovate the place."

Harrah's, which reported record second quarter earnings of $1 billion in July, is planning $84 million in improvements to Louisiana Downs, including upgrades to the stable area. Besides the purse increase, some trainers believe backstretch renovations will play a major role in bringing back horsemen who have left the region to race in Kentucky.

"Horsemen will come," said Robideaux. "All they've got to do is see a nail being driven, and a board being torn down, and doing some work here, and they're going to make plans to come next year."

Robideaux, who was one of a handful of horsemen who met with the representatives of Harrah's last week, also feels the casino company will be respectful of racing. "The simple fact is, they could not have a land-based casino if it were not for the horses," he said.

"The rule in the state of Louisiana is that to have slots, and to have the simulcasts, you have to race 80 days per year. They know they've got to race or they can't have the slots; it's just plain and simple. The two have to be intertwined.

"They told us they consider it a privilege to be here."

Trainer Bret Thomas is happy to have Harrah's on board. "It's the best thing at this time that could happen to us, bringing in a well-respected gaming company to run the slots," he said. "[Slots] are our savior in the horse business in our area, for sure."

Leading trainer Cole Norman agrees: "The bottom line is, I want to race here. I have a home here and I want to stay here. I'm anxious to get the slots in here to get purses up."

Glitzi's Classic: Not a yes, not a no

It has yet to be determined whether Glitzi's Classic, who won a free berth into the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby on Sept. 21 with his victory in the $50,000 Prelude last Saturday, will run in the big race. The Prelude was the first dirt win for the colt, who is a two-time winner on turf and a half-brother to multiple turf stakes winner Sarah Lane's Oates.

"We're talking about it," trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. said of the Super Derby. "It's not a no, and it's not a yes at the present time. We've got other options that we're feeling out."

Leggio said a decision would be made closer to the Super Derby.

Walk in the Snow to try turf

Walk in the Snow, who finished a strong second in the Prelude in his first career start around two turns, will try turf next out in the $50,000 Donnie Wilhite Memorial, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 21.

"I think he's going to handle the turf good," said Herman Taylor, who trains Walk in the Snow.

Taylor said he plans to keep Walk in the Snow, a stakes winner around one turn, routing at the present time. "I was excited with the way he ran in the Prelude. I think the two turns is easier on him," said Taylor.

Following the Wilhite, he plans to start the colt in the $60,000 Louisiana Breeders' Derby over 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 19.

* Daily post for the first race on weekdays changes to 1:45 p.m. on Thursday.