06/20/2005 11:00PM

New surface ready for opening

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OPELOUSAS, La. - All systems appear to be go for Evangeline Downs to reopen next Wednesday following an overhaul of the racing surface. Racing operations were suspended on May 12 after the jockeys refused to ride over a track they deemed unsafe. Because of the seven-week interruption, the meet has been extended to Sept. 24 and the stakes schedule has been modified.

On Monday, the Louisiana State Racing Commission approved plans to resume racing Wednesday, one day earlier than track officials had projected.

Workers had leveled the track's base after it had been found to be inconsistent. Horses began galloping over the revamped surface last Saturday. The adjacent slot machine portion of the facility remained open during work on the track.

The meet, which was originally to end on Labor Day, has been extended for almost three weeks, and Evangeline will race five nights a week rather than the previously planned four. The new schedule calls for racing on Wednesdays through Saturdays and on Monday.

The new schedule ensures the track will run 86 of the 88 Thoroughbred days approved for this year by the commission. The track will also run one mixed (Sept. 4) and one Quarter Horse (Sept. 11) card.

Several changes have been made to the purse schedule. Louisiana Legends Night, a card comprising eight stakes for Louisiana-breds with purses totaling $425,000, has been moved from July 2 to July 30. Highlighting the program is the 40th running of the $100,000 D.S. "Shine" Young Memorial Futurity for 2-year-olds. Trial races for the Shine will be run on July 9, with the top 12 finishers qualifying for the final.

Other stakes that were rescheduled were the Tellike Handicap (from May 20 to July 4), John Franks Memorial Sales Stakes (from July 30 to Aug. 20), and the Evangeline Downs Need for Speed Sprint Championship (from June 17 to Sept. 24). The Franks Stakes, for 2-year-olds, was moved to avoid a conflict with the Shine.

"We moved the Franks to three weeks after the Shine to allow horses nominated to both to have the opportunity to run in both," said Jason Boulet, the Evangeline Downs racing secretary. "The Franks is also positioned two weeks in front of the Lafayette Stakes," which is also for 2-year-olds.

"We moved the Need for Speed to late September to have a stakes event on our closing weekend. The distance of 4 1/2 furlongs should make this one of our more entertaining events."

The dates for the fall Quarter Horse meeting were also modified. The 15-night meet will run from Oct. 1 through Oct. 23, with racing to be conducted on Thursdays through Sundays.