06/03/2008 11:00PM

Mixed response to new schedule


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Racing at Louisiana Downs switched to its traditional Thursday-through-Sunday schedule this week after beginning the meet May 17 with a weekends-only schedule. As with many issues in the industry these days, track management and horsemen viewed the Saturday and Sunday experiment differently.

"It's tough just running two days a week," said trainer Sam David, "especially for the owners who need to earn some purse money to pay the bills. Some of us have been here since late March when Fair Grounds ended, and now it is the first of June.

"You really don't have the time to turn a horse out to freshen, so you just have to keep sitting on one and hope he gets in."

Said trainer Pat Mouton: "It's hard to keep all your owners happy. I've got 65 head back there and I can't very well get six maidens in the same race for six different owners. Somebody is going to be unhappy."

Mouton went on to say that shipping three hours south to Evangeline Downs near Lafayette, La., is an option, although not always an attractive one.

"We have sent a few down there," he said. "But with the price of fuel and what the van companies have to charge, you have to get a large part of the purse to make it worthwhile. They sure aren't giving anything away down there either. Most of the maiden races, especially for Louisiana-breds, come up pretty tough."

Management counters with a powerful argument - the schedule has been good for business.

"We wanted to build some momentum to begin the season," said Mark Midland, vice-president of racing operations. "So far the numbers have been great."

Through the first six days of racing, total handle is up 14 percent from a year ago. Ontrack interest is also running high. While attendance records are no longer kept because admission has been free since the casino opened in 2003, the grandstand has been noticeably busy and ontrack handle is up almost 30 percent over last year.

Field sizes have also increased dramatically. After averaging 8.7 starters per race throughout 2007, the average number of runners per race has jumped to 10.1 since the season began.

"The demand for stalls carried over to our races, and we thank the horsemen for their tremendous response," said racing secretary Doug Bredar.

Stakes races also have played a role in the young season's success. Six stakes, each worth $50,000 and restricted to Louisiana-breds, were held opening day. The second Saturday program had four stakes.

"I would not look at it as a long-term solution," Midland said of the weekends-only schedule. "Our goal is to get to a better schedule where there is less overlapping dates with the tracks in our region - Lone Star and Evangeline. The more we can keep our dates apart, the better it is for everyone."