08/31/2005 11:00PM

Horsemen begin efforts to aid victims of Katrina


Horsemen and horse welfare groups are mobilizing to aid people and animals imperiled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Evangeline Downs, the central Louisiana racetrack, has pledged to donate all revenue from a special racing program this Sunday to a Red Cross group.

There was no new information Thursday about conditions at Fair Grounds Race Course, the New Orleans track caught in the middle of overwhelming floods. Officials at Churchill Downs Inc., which acquired Fair Grounds less than a year ago, have said that more information would be available after a detailed assessment of the racetrack could be made. Since most of the city is covered in water, and the population is being evacuated, any assessment figures to be days, if not weeks, away. The Fair Grounds race meet is scheduled to begin Nov. 24.

The national Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has set up a network to provide relief to Louisiana horsemen. The group, based in Kentucky, is seeking volunteers in the region affected by Hurricane Katrina to be hosts for displaced people and is soliciting donations that will be directed to relief efforts. The organization can be reached through its website, wee.nationalhbpa.com, or by calling (859) 259-0451.

Telephone service in areas that were hit hardest by the storm remains spotty, and it has been difficult to determine the toll on horse populations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Although Louisiana Thoroughbred farms appear to have avoided the worst of the hurricane, there are significant populations of quarter horses and paint horses in hard-hit portions of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association was forced to abandon its office at Fair Grounds but remains open in branch offices at Evangeline Downs in Lafayette and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City.

Loretta Romero, the breeding group's northern manager, said Thursday that its staff was accounted for, including executive director Tom Early, whom Romero said was trying to make his way from New Orleans to Lafayette. Her office at Louisiana Downs was fielding calls from out-of-state breeders, mostly from Texas, who board their horses in Lousiana, but Romero said they had heard little yet from breeders in the areas known to have sustained the worst damage.

"Mr. Early lives in Folsom, and we're told they have a lot of damage down there," Romero said, referring to an area just north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain.

The Louisiana breeders group can be contacted through its Louisiana Downs office at (318) 752-6375 and (318) 742-5555.

The United States Equestrian Foundation, based in Kentucky, is attempting to pair horses in need of shelter with people who are able to provide it. Interested parties can contact the organization via e-mail at kcadams@usef.org or by phone at (859) 225-6993.

The Louisiana Equine Council is also providing assistance to displaced horses. That organization's website is lahg.net, and its toll free phone number is (888) 784-8760.

The National Horse Protection Coalition is collecting equine supplies and has already planned a shipment to the afflicted region. Donations can be arranged online at horseprotection.org.

At Arlington Park outside Chicago, jockey Mark Guidry, who was born in Louisiana, has helped to create a relief fund. "Thank goodness, my family is safe, and all my people live 20 or 30 miles down the Gulf from those people that are underwater right now," he said, "but that could have very easily been me and my loved ones suffering the way those people are suffering right now."

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain