04/30/2014 2:05PM

Louisiana Downs meet opener attracts 96 horses

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Departing won the 2013 Super Derby, which remains the centerpiece of the Louisiana Downs meet that begins Friday.

Louisiana Downs will launch its 84-date meet Friday with large fields, a condensed stakes program led by the Grade 2, $400,000 Super Derby, and a new voice booming from the announcer’s booth.

The Bossier City track has nine races carded for its season opener, with 96 horses representing such stables as defending training champ Joey Foster, Karl Broberg, Bret Calhoun, Ron Faucheux, Jonas Gibson, Allen Milligan, Morris Nicks, Danny Pish, Ronnie Ward, and Shane Wilson.

“Entries went extremely well,” said racing secretary David Heitzmann. “We’ve got a few 12-horse fields. We were very pleased with the turnout.”

The Super Derby is the meet’s centerpiece, and for this year’s running Sept. 6, the purse for the 1 1/8-mile race has been trimmed from the usual $500,000. The Super Derby will anchor a card of seven stakes worth $900,000 in total, including a pair of 2-year-old turf routes that in the past have produced Breeders’ Cup starters. There will be a $100,000-guaranteed pick four linking four of the stakes on what is the track’s richest card, said Trent McIntosh, director of racing operations for Louisiana Downs.

The Super Derby program is one of two housing the meet’s 16-race stakes schedule worth $1.65 million. The Aug. 2 card is led by the $100,000 Prelude, which carries a Super Derby berth. There are eight other stakes on the Prelude program, which is worth $750,000, six of them statebred offerings as part of the annual Louisiana Cup Day.

Louisiana Downs had 24 stakes a year ago but condensed the schedule to maintain its standard average daily purse distribution of $150,000. The track has 1,100 slot machines in a casino housed in the grandstand.

“We had a new [gaming] competitor in the market that basically has some effect on our casino business,” McIntosh said. “That affected the amount of total purse money we have, so we made adjustments to the stakes schedule to maintain overall purse levels. It was important to maintain the everyday product for the whole 84 days.”

Rick Mocklin is the track’s new voice, taking over for Travis Stone, who recently was hired as Monmouth Park’s announcer. Mocklin, 57, is a native of New Orleans. He will be calling races on a regular basis for the first time in 19 years.

“Rick is a guy whose announcing career started at Jefferson Downs back in the 1970s,” McIntosh said. “He continued that through the mid-90s at Sam Houston and other tracks and most recently was the backup announcer at Fair Grounds. He’s getting back to one of the things he’s passionate about."

Mocklin is also a noted jockeys’ agent and will continue in that role at Louisiana Downs, where he will represent three-time defending champ Richard Eramia and newcomer Martin Ramirez.

Pat Johnson, the brother of Joe Johnson, is new to the riding ranks this meet. Others making up the colony include Roman Chapa, John Jacinto, Donnie Meche, Chris Rosier and Don Simington.

The trainer ranks include Eddie Johnston, Pat Mouton and Stanley Roberts, along with new faces such as Sarah Delany, Jim Palmer, and Ruperto Urbina.

Those returning to the track for the first time this season will notice that the newest of three hotels on the front side is open for business. Louisiana Downs, meanwhile, has added six new sports boxes in the grandstand, each the size of three boxes, with upscale leather furniture and big-screen televisions, McIntosh said.

“It’s a living-room experience in the club level,” he said.