04/26/2005 11:00PM

New challenges on Evangeline's new oval

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Friday night's nonwinners-of-four/optional claiming feature at Evangeline Downs presents exactly the dilemma many players have found themselves in for much of the season thus far: Do you go for the hot hand from the recently concluded Delta Downs meeting or the more modest-looking but classier Fair Grounds form?

Each track has produced its share of winners at Evangeline Downs during the first three weeks of the season, but times have changed from years past with the new one-mile oval here. Direct translation from the Delta bullring to the old track's three-quarter-mile strip down the interstate at Carencro no longer applies, as the new facility's longer stretch requires greater staying power.

Drill Hall, winner of no fewer than four races over the winter at Delta - all at a mile, the distance of Friday's race - represents the strongest of the contingent from that track, and leading rider Steve Bourque will once again handle the riding chores. Trained by Keith Bourgeois, himself atop the trainer standings, Drill Hall was claimed by his present connections off a winning effort New Year's Eve and has done little wrong since.

Love Mountain, while inconsistent, has shown signs of real talent in each of his three career wins. While all have come sprinting, Love Mountain just missed going two turns on the grass last year at Fair Grounds in the Dixie Poker Ace Stakes. A son of Prince of the Mt., he was victorious in allowance company two starts back in New Orleans and should prove to be a presence up front from start to finish. Marlon St Julien has the call to ride.

Others in the evenly matched group include Landon, no worse than second in his last three Fair Grounds starts; Hopkins, undefeated in both of his career outs; and the class of the field, $500,000 career earner Walk in the Snow, last seen at Delta running second in allowance company.