06/10/2009 12:00AM

Louisiana bill calls for more racing dates

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Pending legislation at the state capitol in Baton Rouge would protect the number of Thoroughbred dates held annually in Louisiana and increase the number of Quarter Horse race dates.

Senate Bill 231, sponsored by Sen. Nick Geautreax (D-Abbeville), would make it mandatory for Evangeline Downs, Delta Downs, and Louisiana Downs to each run a minimum of 126 racing days per year with "not less than 80 days for Thoroughbreds and not less than 46 days for Quarter Horses." Because it has fewer slot machines, Fair Grounds would be required to hold only 12 Quarter Horse dates.

The new bill passed the senate 31-3 and is expected to be introduced to the house this week. If passed, the law would go into effect Aug. 15.

The bill has the support of horsemen.

"The bill basically protects our best interests," said trainer Sam David Jr., who is a board member of the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and sits on the Louisiana Downs Backside Committee. "Current law states that any association in the state must run a minimum of 80 days. The law does not designate any particular breed. While no track has even suggested that they would mix Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse dates to fill out the 80-day requirement, we want to close the door on the possibility of a 60-20 day situation or even 40-40 split."

Every track in the state currently holds a Thoroughbred meet of more than 80 days, but the bill would require Louisiana Downs, Evangeline Downs, and Fair Grounds to schedule longer Quarter Horse meets. Louisiana Downs has conducted 40-day Quarter Horse meetings in each of the last two years, as has Evangeline Downs. Delta is in the midst of a 52-day Quarter Horse stand, while Fair Grounds is slated for a 10-day session in September.

The current law states that "an association shall not be licensed to conduct off-track betting or other authorized wagering in the state unless it conducts live racing for not less than 80 days during a 20-week period." The legislation was enacted before slot-machine revenue generated purse money for Quarter Horses. Louisiana Downs did not hold its first Quarter Horse season until 2004 and is not eager to extend the season.

In a statement issued last week, Louisiana Downs management said, "If S.B. 231 passes, we will be required to increase our Quarter Horse races, which in turn will result in a financial loss."

"The extra days are going to dilute our purses for the Quarter Horse meeting," said Louisiana Downs director of racing, Trent McIntosh. "We are already feeling the pinch of declining slot revenue in these difficult times and this is just going to put added pressure on the purse structure."