04/07/2009 11:00PM

More large fields expected and on grass, too

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OPELOUSAS, La. - Wednesday's opening night program will usher in a new age at Evangeline Downs: the age of turf racing.

The long-awaited grass course will be added to a track that has bucked industry trends in both business and number of runners in recent years. Total handle has increased each season since Evangeline moved to its new location, 20 miles north of its former site, in 2005. The track also says it has led the nation in number of starters per race for the last two years.

Business again appears to be brisk in 2009, at least through the entry box, as 118 horses are entered for Wednesday night's 10 races. That figure includes a dozen maiden special weight types scheduled to go 1 1/16 miles on turf in the night's third race, the first-ever grass event here. The race will be called the David Yount Memorial, named to honor the late director of racing operations who was so instrumental to the development of the new Evangeline Downs, and who died of cancer last year.

The entry process has gone well thus far, says the track's new racing secretary, Coleman Lloyd, who replaces Jason Boulet after Boulet left to fill the same position at Fair Grounds last fall. We have 118 horses on the overnight for Wednesday, 120 on Thursday, and 117 Friday. There are over 4,200 sets of foal papers in our racing office. It seems like we have every one in the entire state.

We are going to card one turf race a night for the first four programs. We will see how it holds up, as it is still a little early in the season. In another week or two, the plan is to add a second race a night.

The addition of the turf course has resulted in a restructuring of the stakes program this year. The John Henry for 3-year-olds and up, the Tellike for filly and mare sprinters, the Matron for filly and mare routers, and the Mervin Muniz Starter Stakes will move from the main track to the grass. In addition, Lloyd has added the $100,000 Attaway Darbonne for Louisiana-breds to the Louisiana Legends Night program on July 4, which should once again be the season's highlight.

Overnight purse distribution will average about $175,000 per night for the 89-night stand, which concludes on Labor Day. Open maiden special weight races will be worth a slots-subsidized $22,000, with Louisiana-breds running for $30,000.