05/03/2006 12:00AM

Multiple changes, both on and off the track

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From staff to stakes, a number of changes have been made at Louisiana Downs, the Bossier City, La., track and slots casino that will open for a 93-date meet on Friday. The season will run through Oct. 21.

Louisiana Downs, following last year's meet, hosted an abbreviated Fair Grounds season that ended in January, and since then, change has swept through the plant. Mark Midland was named the new vice president of racing operations following the February resignation of Ray Tromba.

Tony Patterson was brought on as racing secretary after Pat Pope left his position in April. Travis Stone has replaced Frank Mirahmadi as track announcer. Stone, a native of New York whose style can be described as traditional, will call his first Louisiana Downs race at 1:25 p.m. Central on Friday.

Mike Raidt is the new track superintendent after George McDermott accepted a position with Lone Star Park.

The Super Derby and its supporting stakes have undergone a facelift, and the annual Breeders' Festival has been renamed Louisiana Downs Champions Day and will be moved up on the calendar to Aug. 19. The program of 12 stakes for Louisiana-breds is worth $1.2 million. Louisiana Downs has also opened up its first floor near the paddock, a capital improvement project that has almost doubled the square footage area for patrons, said Midland. There also will be free seating on the second floor of the grandstand.

"From the racing side, we've got some tweaks that we think will improve the business," said Midland, a former vice president of marketing for Churchill Downs Inc.

The Super Derby's purse and distance have been scaled back this year, reverting to the 2004 levels of $500,000 and 1 1/8 miles after a one-year experiment at $750,000 and 1 1/4 miles. The shorter distance is viewed as "our best chance to put the largest, most competitive field on the track for the Super Derby," said Midland.

The additional funds from the Super Derby were redistributed into the race's supporting stakes, making the Louisiana Downs Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Marie P. DeBartolo Oaks Handicap each worth $200,000. The Juvenile will remain at $100,000. Together, the four stakes are worth $1 million and will make up a pick four when they are run Sept. 23.

"Super Derby, we're really working to turn that into more of a Super Derby Day," said Midland. "The supporting stakes are all turf races, so we think those will fill extremely well. And the Super Derby usually fills very well, so we have a potential for just an outstanding pick four.

"It's something that we talked about with our horsemen, and we all agreed that this was the direction that we wanted to go in, so we're real excited about it. We think this will be the first year and we'll probably go even further with it down the road."

Purses at the meet will average more than $190,000 a day, said Patterson, who last worked as assistant racing secretary at Sam Houston Race Park. The stakes schedule is worth $4 million, and begins Friday with the $50,000 John Franks Memorial, a one-mile turf race for Louisiana-breds. The field of 10 includes the up-and-coming Cat Man, who has won his last three races by a total of 19 lengths for trainer Sam Breaux. Others of interest include Spritely Walker, Witt Ante, and Badtotheboneandrew.

Trainer Cole Norman will be looking to secure his ninth Louisiana Downs title, which would equal the record held by Frank Brothers. John Jacinto, who won last year's riding title, is now in Kentucky, but a strong colony is here, led by Carlos Gonzalez, Tracy Hebert, Gerard Melancon, E.J. Perrodin, and Luis Quinonez.

Louisiana Downs, in another change, will race three days a week for most of May before resuming a four-day-a-week schedule in June.

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 93 days; Friday through Oct. 21; Racing Friday to Sunday through June 4, then Thursday through Sunday most weeks, with holiday cards scheduled for May 29, July 3 and 4, and Sept. 4.

POST TIME: 1:25 p.m. Central; noon on Super Derby day, Sept. 23.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Sept. 1Prelude$100,000
Sept. 4Total Rewards Breeders' Cup100,000
Sept. 23Super Derby XXVII (G2)500,000
Sept. 23 La. Downs B.C. Handicap200,000
Sept. 23Harrah's Juvenile100,000
Sept. 23 Marie P. DeBartolo Oaks200,000
Sept. 30River Cities Breeders' Cup100,000

ADMISSIONS & PARKING: Free

SIMULCASTING: Daily

LOCATION: At the intersection of Interstates 20 and 220, or 8000 East Texas St., in Bossier City, La.

PHONE: (318) 742-5555

INTERNET: www.ladowns.com