05/14/2004 12:00AM

New look for new season


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Louisiana Downs opened with a new look on Friday, and many patrons returning to the track for the first time were surprised by a new casino and dining addition that doubles as the main entrance to the track.

"It looks great," said Fred Revils, who lives in neighboring Greenwood. "It's probably the best thing that ever happened to this place.

"I live here," he said. "I saw the first race here, and it used to be great. Now, I think it's moving [back] to where it used to be."

Harrah's Entertainment, which operates 26 casinos nationwide, purchased Louisiana Downs in December 2002 and has made a steady stream of improvements to the track, the most noticeable the 150,000-square-foot casino and restaurant area, which features high ceilings and bright colors. There are 1,402 slot machines in the gaming area of the addition, up from the 905 installed at the track last May.

"I like the horses better than I do the slot machines, but we've got a combination now, which is great," Revils said. "What happens is the guys bring their wives now, and the wives go play the slot machines and the guys play the horses."

The slots are pushing purses to $200,000 a day for the summer meet, and the increased distribution has motivated some horsemen to upgrade their stables, said trainer Sam David Jr.

"I think most of the horsemen are supporting [the track] as well as they can," said David. "They all seem to have done their part as far as buying better horses, which a lot of the tracks that have slots haven't done. They haven't improved their stock.

"But I think if you look around, overall, you see some better quality horses [here] in anticipation of some better quality purses," he said. "I think that means a lot. It doesn't really help racing if we don't better our quality of horses along with the better purses."

Rain hit the area all week and threatened to fall on the opener, but the overcast skies turned brighter leading up to the first race, and the afternoon rain that was forecast did not materialize. Jockey Luis Quinonez swept the first three races when he captured the first with 4-5 favorite Strike Reality, the second with Duplicate Award, and the third with 12-1 shot Belusko's Babe.

Leslie's Love returns from setback

Leslie's Love, who has finished first or second in nine of her last 10 starts, returns to action Sunday at Louisiana Downs in the second race, a $75,000 optional claimer on turf for fillies and mares. Others of note in the five-furlong race include stakes winners Fuse It and Repository, who in her last start finished fourth in the $117,000 Mamzelle at Churchill Downs on April 29.

Leslie's Love has not raced since March 26, when she was the 1-5 favorite for the $40,000 Mademoiselle at Delta Downs. The ground broke out from underneath her at the start of that race, and she stumbled badly and lost regular rider Gerard Melancon.

"It was a bad deal," said Troy Young, who trains Leslie's Love for Donald Foret.

Leslie's Love burned both knees in the incident and sustained a cut to the pastern area of her left front leg. She looked excellent Friday morning, however, and Young is hoping for a strong effort on Sunday.

But he is cautiously optimistic. He said that because of the injury, he was not able to do as much as he wanted to between races with Leslie's Love, who had to walk for close to three weeks after the Mademoiselle. She has, however, had two works at Louisiana Downs.

"She never did require a whole lot of training, [so] I'm hoping her class and her ability carries her," said Young.

Young said his next major stakes goal for Leslie's Love, who won three straight races last year at Louisiana Downs, is the $50,000 Miller Lite Stakes at five furlongs on turf at Lone Star Park on June 26. She also is eligible for Louisiana-bred stakes at Louisiana Downs.

Overall, Leslie's Love has won 18 races and $530,684.