04/10/2002 11:00PM

Meet opens with slots on horizon

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LAFAYETTE, La. - Evangeline Downs on Saturday begins its 82-day season - almost certainly one of its last without slot machines.

Peninsula Gaming Corporation purchased 50 percent of Evangeline Downs over the winter, and along with co-owner Billy Trotter has formally begun the licensing process for slot machines. When that process is complete, the track plans to move to St. Landry Parish, which allows slot machines. The parish in which the track currently sits, Lafayette Parish, does not allow slots.

Upon receipt of the slots license, Evangeline Downs would then have two years to have the slots up and running at its new location. Track officials say those plans could be finalized this summer.

Racing will be conducted Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights beginning at 6:45 p.m., a departure from last year's schedule, which was Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The highlight of the stakes program here, as usual, is the three-race stakes series for 2-year-olds: the Shine Young Futurity on July 4, Bayouland Sales Stakes Aug. 3, and Lafayette Stakes on closing day, Sept. 2. These races have produced several future stars, including Hallowed Dreams.

Saturday night's feature is the $30,000 Inaugural Handicap for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

Hail to Bag is the likely favorite and 122-pound highweight. A speedy son of Bag, he won the Shine Young and Lafayette here last season.

In his last race, at Fair Grounds in December, he suffered the lone defeat of his six-race career, when he was beaten a neck in the Louisiana Futurity. Hail to Bag will have regular rider Steve Bourque in the irons. Bourque is fresh off winning the riding title at Delta Downs.

David Yount, for 13 years an assistant manager and director of operations at Louisiana Downs, and most recently the general manager of El Comandante Racetrack in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is Evangeline Downs's new general manager.