05/04/2017 11:36AM

New-look Super Derby among changes as Louisiana Downs opens

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Texas Chrome wins the 2016 Super Derby, which will be run on turf this year.

The Louisiana Downs meet that opens Saturday features a slew of changes, including moving the Super Derby to turf, a restructured race week, and new wagers. The 84-date season in Bossier City will run through Sept. 27.

Louisiana Downs, which operates a slots casino, also is expanding its racing-related events with a qualifier for the National Handicapping Championship. It will offer two spots in the Las Vegas finale during an ontrack tournament June 17.

In other changes, there has been a complete renovation of the saddling paddock and walking ring, while the stable area is housing more horses than usual early in the meet, with 1,100 in place. Large fields are the norm for the first four cards, which already have been drawn as part of the seven-day-out entry schedule at Louisiana Downs.

“Entries have been extremely strong through the first week of racing, averaging 10.5 horses per race,” said Trent McIntosh, assistant general manager of Louisiana Downs.

Louisiana Downs will race Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, with a daily first post of 3:15 p.m. Central. The swapping of Thursdays and Fridays for Mondays and Tuesdays comes a year after the track dropped Sundays in favor of Wednesdays. McIntosh said Louisiana Downs had its highest handle days on Wednesdays, and he hopes the Monday and Tuesday cards also will draw strong interest from horseplayers.

The Super Derby on Sept. 9 has undergone a complete makeover but remains the centerpiece of a 14-race stakes schedule worth approximately $1 million.

The $200,000 Super Derby will be run at 1 1/16 miles on turf in a departure from recent years, when the 1 1/8-mile dirt race was worth $400,000. The purse reduction was made to balance purses for the remainder of the meet, providing for competitive races for horseplayers throughout the season, McIntosh said.

Louisiana Downs is scheduled to card seven races a day, with purses projected to average $100,000 per program. The track plans to put on 12 or 13 races on Super Derby Day, with the race being supported by four other stakes that are each worth $60,000. The program, which will have a special post time to be determined, will be the richest of the meet. The stakes will be worth $440,000. The meet’s other major program will be the $360,000 Louisiana Cup card of seven stakes Aug. 5. It features six divisional stakes for Louisiana-breds, as well as the $60,000 Prelude, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds that serves as the local prep for the Super Derby.

The wagering format at Louisiana Downs will now include a Super Hi Five on the last race of each program, and the bet will have a 50-cent minimum, McIntosh said. There also will be a Jackpot Pick 6 on the last six races each day; it will have a 10-cent minimum, McIntosh said.

Saturday’s feature is a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and up over 7 1/2 furlongs on turf that drew 14, including also-eligibles.