07/11/2007 12:00AM

Louisiana's finest in jockey challenge


OPELOUSAS, La. - It is being billed as the "Battle on the Bayou" - 12 of the country's finest riders, all natives of the south-central region of Louisiana, converge at Evangeline Downs for Friday night's Cajun Jockey Challenge.

The competition consists of four races ranging in distance from six furlongs to a mile and 70 yards, with varying class levels, from Louisiana-bred maidens to a starter handicap worth $50,000. A point system will determine the winner, with riding assignments randomly selected. In addition to the $142,000 in purse money at stake, the winning rider will receive $5,000 and, perhaps more important, bragging rights.

The participants are Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, Curt Bourque, Steve Bourque, Kerwin Clark, Mark Guidry, Tracy Hebert, Brian Hernandez Jr., Corey Lanerie, Gerard Melancon, Larry Melancon, and E. J. Perrodin. Collectively, the group has won more than 37,000 races and more than $640 million in purse money.

In addition to the contest, four riding greats from the region who have retired will be honored - Ronald Ardoin, Randy Romero, Shane Sellers, and Ray Sibille.

"Interest in the challenge has been overwhelming," said Jason Boulet, racing secretary at Evangeline Downs and the driving force behind the event.

"All of these athletes have strong ties to this area, even though many no long compete here on a regular basis. This is, and always will be, home to them. We, as their family, friends, and fans, have followed them on their various paths to success in our great sport and are tremendously excited to welcome them all back home on this special night."

Festivities will begin at noon with a brunch hosted by retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day in the Silks dining room on the third floor of the facility. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Racetrack Chaplaincy fund. The brunch will also feature appearances by the riders scheduled to compete later that evening and the retired riders being honored. Tickets are available in advance and at the door; the cost is $75.

Following the brunch, from 3:30 to 5, fans will have an opportunity to meet the riders in an autograph signing session at Mojo's, the Evangeline Downs sports bar located adjacent to the paddock.