05/02/2012 2:01PM

Louisiana Downs: Meet opens with new jockeys, trainers, and jackpot pick-five wager


Louisiana Downs will open its 84-date meet Friday with several notable new jockeys and trainers, a pick-five jackpot wager, and some clever fan education initiatives. The Bossier City, La., track, which is home to the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby, will race through Sept. 23.

Jockeys Jamie Theriot and Mark Guidry are joining the rider ranks this meet. Guidry, who is back after a brief retirement, last rode at Louisiana Downs in 2002. Theriot, meanwhile, will begin riding in Bossier City on a regular basis next Thursday, May 10, said his agent, Bobby Kelly. Theriot, who was last based at Louisiana Downs in 2006, has engagements at Churchill Downs, including riding his 2010 Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge.

Trainer Danny Pish, who operates one of the winningest stables in Texas, is branching out with a division at Louisiana Downs. Officials said other new faces making up the training ranks include Chris Candies, Tim Dixon, and Eddie Johnston, while Stanley Roberts has returned with a much larger presence than he had in 2011.

“We have a handful of new faces,” said Trent McIntosh, director of operations for Louisiana Downs. “From a horsemen standpoint, it feels like a little bit of a bounce back.”

Purses are projected to average about $155,000 a day this meet, McIntosh said. The track’s 28-race, $2.2 million stakes schedule is led by the Super Derby. The 1 1/8-mile race was moved up two weeks last year in an experiment, and it will again occupy a similar spot on the calendar after drawing a strong cast led by winner Prayer for Relief.

“It’s a much better spot for us,” McIntosh said. “We’re not attacking Grade 1 races and we’re not on top of the Pennsylvania Derby. There’s a host of races for us to pick up horses from, from Grade 2 and Grade 3s around the country.”

The Super Derby remains the richest race of the meet and the centerpiece of a card of six stakes worth a cumulative $1 million. The program also includes the $150,000 Sunday Silence for 2-year-olds at a mile on turf and the $100,000 Happy Ticket for 2-year-old fillies on turf. Last year, handle on the corresponding card was up 21 percent, to $4.5 million, in what was the best business day of the meet for Louisiana Downs.

The track also will run multiple stakes on Aug. 4, with the program to be led by the $100,000 Prelude, a prep for the Super Derby; on Aug. 18, when eight Louisiana-bred stakes will make up the $750,000 Louisiana Cup; and Sept. 22, when there will be six stakes for 2- and 3-year-olds bred in either Arkansas or Louisiana.

On Friday, Louisiana Downs will introduce a super pick-five jackpot wager similar to the one offered this season at Fair Grounds, McIntosh said. It will run on the last five races of each card and have a 50-cent minimum. If one ticket has the winners of the five consecutive races, the entire pool is paid to that person. If there’s more than one winner, 50 percent of the pool gets paid out and 50 percent gets placed in a carryover pool for the next program.

Patrons also will be greeted with a new fan education wall near the track’s main entrance.

“It has basic explanations of the past performance lines, and what the pieces mean, from trainer, jockey, and speed-figure information,” McIntosh said. “It’s pretty cool. When we put it up, employees from the casino side of the building raved about how much they learned from it. It will be interesting to someone who has been to the races just a few times.”

McIntosh said the wall also will assist those playing “horse-racing bingo” each Sunday. Louisiana Downs is introducing the free game that requires players to follow the live races to try and bingo for prizes that range from T-shirts to $250.

“Horse racing bingo got on our radar, and we really thought it was something that would work here,” McIntosh said.

He also said Louisiana Downs is scheduled to have an increased presence this meet on TVG.

Those returning for the new season include jockey Richard Eramia, who won his first North American title last meet at Louisiana Downs; Morris Nicks, the defending training champ; and Charles Hukill, a trainer who won the local owner title in 2011.