09/11/2013 1:36PM

Louisiana Downs: Evangeline shippers will boost field size for final two weeks of meet

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BOSSIER CITY, La. – One would think that with last Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby out of the way, the final two weeks of the Louisiana Downs season would merely be an afterthought. For serious horseplayers, however, the exact opposite may be true.

That’s because last Saturday also marked the end of the 2013 Evangeline Downs season, just 180 miles to the south. That means the annual northern migration of horses and horsemen into Bossier City has begun in earnest, resulting in more choices and considerably larger fields for the bettor to choose from. Take Friday’s race program for example. The 10 races drew a total 91 entrants. Those figures are in stark contrast to last Friday’s card, Super Derby Eve, in which only nine races were filled. An already lean program was decimated by a total of 15 scratches, which resulted in only 59 runners going postward. Included in the carnage were three races that had only five betting interests each.

This Friday’s feature race, a first-level dirt sprint allowance, has a definite Evangeline influence. The 10-horse field includes Barber Shop Rock, a $200,000 purchase at the 2010 Keenland September yearling sale. The son of Rock Hard Ten took his time getting to the races but ran a good one in his debut when he cruised home 3 1/2 lengths the best in a maiden race at Evangeline Downs five weeks ago. Trainer Clay Loetscher has enlisted the services of jockey Filemon Rodriguez on Friday.

Hip Four Sixtynine invaded from Kentucky and will be making his first start at Louisiana Downs. Previously trained by Bobby Barnett, Hip Four Sixtynine is now conditioned by local leading trainer Joey Foster. The Southern Image colt has been busy in the mornings lately, including a half-mile drill of 47 seconds Sept. 1, the fastest of 55 moves at the distance. He comes into Friday’s race off a fourth-place performance at the recently concluded Ellis Park meeting. Chris Rosier will ride.

Also rated highly is the Eric Heitzmann-trained duo of Afleet Halo and Macabe’s Gold. Each is coming off a runner-up performance at the same allowance condition. Heitzmann is adding blinkers to Afleet Halo and with post 1, he could be the pacesetter. Russell Welsh owns both Afleet Halo and Macabe’s Gold, which means they will be coupled for wagering purposes. Heitzmann has named leading rider Richard Eramia on both halves of the entry.

Saenz, Broberg tops at Evangeline

Diego Saenz easily captured his second consecutive riding title and fourth in the last five years at Evangeline after recording 126 wins during the 84-day season. The 31-year-old native of Chihuahua, Mexico, set an earnings record of $1.982 million. He put an exclamation mark on his season by winning six races on the final two programs. Saenz posted his 1,000th career win at the meeting.

“It was another memorable season for me here at Evangeline Downs,” Saenz said Saturday. “To celebrate, my wife and I are taking a week-long cruise visiting three countries, including Mexico.”

Colby Hernandez and Gerard Melancon, 2012’s second- and third-place jockeys, duplicated their finishes from a year ago, with Hernandez registering 82 victories and Melancon visiting the winner’s circle 74 times. Joe Patin Jr. and Emanuel Nieves rounded out the top five with 65 and 45 wins, respectively.

As comfortable as Saenz’s winning margin was, the race for leading trainer was even more lopsided.

Karl Broberg dominated the conditioner ranks, sending out 78 winners from 237 starters for a success rate of 33 percent. Sam Breaux posted 41 winners, followed by Keith Bourgeois with 36.