01/05/2012 12:45PM

Louisiana Downs opens Quarter Horse meet with pair of stakes

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Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., will jump into its Quarter Horse meet on Saturday with a stakes double. In the $20,000 Harrah’s Dash at 250 yards, Charal Kid, a seven-time stakes winner who has earned more than $330,000, will take on Endless Ocean, who has been chasing Grade 1 winners Cold Cash 123 and Llano Teller. The card also features the $20,000 Harrah’s Distaff.

Louisiana Downs will race 46 dates through March 21. The track will put on 12 stakes in all, the richest of which will be the Mardi Gras Futurity on March 10. Last year, the 300-yard race for Louisiana-breds was worth $264,876. Trials for this year’s running will be on Feb. 21. The other 2-year-old stakes at the meet is the Harrah’s Futurity, a 300-yard race that a year ago was worth $249,370. Trials are March 3.

Louisiana Downs will again be offering 50-cent trifectas and pick fours, which were put in place during the course of last year’s Quarter Horse meet. Those returning to the track for the first time since then will notice new television sets throughout the facility and a new high-end players’ room. Louisiana Downs, which is home to 1,100 slot machines, has also expanded its players’ rewards program to include more racing-specific awards such as discounts on food and drink items. The change was made last May and the track has since amped up direct-mailing campaigns.

“This is the first time around for our marketing efforts during the Quarter Horse meet, and hopefully we’ll see the effects of that for the Quarter Horse players,” said Trent McIntosh, director of racing operations for Louisiana Downs. “Hopefully, we’ll see effects similar to what we did during the 2011 Thoroughbred meet, when it was first introduced.”

A collection of some of the Southwest’s best trainers have set up shop at Louisiana Downs, including Vann Haywood, the meet’s defending champ; Kenneth Roberts Sr., who is coming off his sixth Evangeline Downs title in the last eight years; Janet VanBebber, a multiple title winner in the region; Heath Taylor, known best as the trainer of Stolis Winner, the all-time leading earner among Quarter Horses; and Don Mourning, who trained World Champion SLM Big Daddy.

The riding colony includes John Hamilton, Danny Lavergne, and J.R. Ramirez. Alfonso Lujan and Gilbert Ortiz, who are regulars at the meet, are both missing from opening weekend entries due to injuries. Lujan, who picked up his 12th title in Louisiana last month at Evangeline Downs, injured his ankle late in the meet in a training accident. Ortiz fractured a vertebra and several ribs in a spill, also in December.

McIntosh said purses at Louisiana Downs this meet are projected to average about $85,000 a day, the same as 2011. He said the track will race every Saturday through Tuesday, with special Wednesday cards on March 14 and March 21. First post is 1 p.m. Central.