06/25/2002 11:00PM

Norman facing new opposition


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Local kingpin Cole Norman will find increased competition at Louisiana Downs this meet as he strives to win his fifth straight Louisiana Downs training title. An improved purse structure that will offer $200,000 a day for the summer meet which runs through Sept. 22 has lured at least 10 new stables to town.

A fall meet runs from Sept. 26 to Nov. 10.

Louisiana Downs has boosted purses more than 50 percent over last year, and has picked up horses from a number of new outfits including those of Stanley Roberts, Donnie Von Hemel, Keith Bourgeois, Kenny Smith, Cliff Haydel, Ronnie Ward, Sam Breaux, Ron Moquett, Chuck Turco, and Ronnie Campisano.

New guns aside, Norman's stable is loaded with talent and he will waste little time proving it. In Friday's $50,000 Kings Court Stakes, Norman will roll out one of his chief weapons, Beau's Town, who is looking for his seventh consecutive win.

Norman won 108 races at this meet last year to set a track record, and he hopes to top that total this year. Even though the stronger training colony here this season will make reaching that goal tougher, Norman welcomes the new barns.

"We need those guys," said Norman. "I think it's going to be tougher racing, but it's going to be better because we're going to fill more races."

Norman has only 80 days to break 108 wins this meet, nine days fewer than a year ago. But the pool of horses he has to pull from is greater. He had about 80 horses in training a year ago, but right now has just over 100, with 50 of them stabled at Louisiana Downs. The remainder of his charges are divided between a Louisiana farm and Lone Star Park near Dallas.

Norman leads the standings at Lone Star, where he had claimed 35 horses through Sunday, and will be racing at both tracks while the two overlap the next two weeks. Lone Star closes July 14.

Norman's challengers in the trainer's race will include Steve Asmussen, who finished second in the standings here last year with 31 wins, and newcomer Roberts, who won the titles at Prairie Meadows and Hoosier Park in 2001 and was second in this year's Oaklawn Park standings.

Bourgeois is another trainer poised to make an impact. Last year, the Evangeline Downs-based horseman shipped up to Louisiana Downs and won 30 races to rank third in the standings, but this year will have a string on the grounds.

As part of the new purse distribution, maiden special weight races at Louisiana Downs this year have been boosted from $18,000 to $22,000, according to Pat Pope, the track's racing secretary

In other categories, the purse for $5,000 claimers has risen from $6,000 to $7,000, while the purse for $20,000 claimers has gone from $13,500 to $16,000. Also this year, some allowances have gone up in value from $25,000 to $28,000 or $30,000.

The new purses have not just brought new barns, but also some new riders. Kirk LeBlanc, who won the title last year, will face new challengers in Tim Doocy, Rodney Trader, Glen Murphy, and Otto Thorwarth. Regulars expected back are Anthony Lovato, Gerard Melancon, Ron Ardoin, and David Guillory.