Updated on 09/17/2011 10:16PM

Norman shoots for hard eight

Louisiana Downs
Louisiana Downs opens Friday with improvements outside and in - such as a renovated track surface that will better handle rain.

Cole Norman faces quite a challenge as he goes after his eighth straight training title at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La. His barn exceeded his expectations at Oaklawn Park this winter by winning 62 races during the 55-date meet, and now he is racing at both Louisiana Downs and Lone Star, which overlap into July.

He also has fewer horses in training than last meet, a higher percentage of 2-year-olds, and lost a fair amount of conditions with his horses while winning his fifth straight title at Oaklawn.

"We've overdone ourselves the first part of the year, and you wonder, is that going to catch up with us now," said Norman. "We don't have those numbers we had a year ago, and with all those races we won, you pay for your winning. You lose conditions; horses who won those maidens, those a-other-than and two-other-thans, and the more stakes you win, the more weight you carry. How's it going to affect us for the rest of the year?"

So far, Norman, whose seven titles at Louisiana Downs rank second to the record nine won by Frank Brothers, is more than holding his own. He has started eight horses at Lone Star, which opened April 14, and has won three races, including the $50,000 Wafare with budding start True Tails. Opening day at Louisiana Downs he has one starter, Red Soldier in the $50,000 John Franks Memorial, and he said on Wednesday he planned to enter eight or nine horses for races at the track for Saturday.

Norman said his 100-horse stable is divided evenly, with 50 horses at Louisiana Downs and 50 at Lone Star. Plans are to place horses where they can win, no matter the track, said Norman.

"The only reason one horse would stay at one track was if he was claimed at the track," said Norman. "Other than that, every horse I've got will start at either track. I've already okayed that with all the owners. They pay the bills, and we need to run their horses wherever we can run them."

So to satisfy his 56 owners, Norman will focus not on winning titles, but on just winning. It is something he has excelled at since he won his first race as a trainer on Nov. 13, 1994, at Louisiana Downs. Norman reached a career pinnacle in 2003, when won 290 races and $5.4 million in purses to rank third in wins among all trainers in North America.

At one point during that season, Norman had 172 horses in training. Now the barn is smaller, the result of the typical cycles of racing.

"Things happen," said Norman, who ranked fourth in the nation in wins through Tuesday. "Horses get retired, owners get out of the game. We don't have the ammo like we did in 2003, and I think we were even stouter in 2004, but we're going to win our share. We'll survive if we don't win the Louisiana Downs title. We won't like it, but we'll live on."

Meche's absence opens door

Lonnie Meche is the defending leading rider at Louisiana Downs, but his name is not expected to be found in the entries for about another month. Meche is serving a 45-day suspension after testing positive for amphetamines. He began the suspension on April 15, according to a ruling that was issued in Texas.

While he is away, a gang of riders will attempt to get a leg up in the standings at Louisiana Downs.

Guy Smith should rank among the early leaders. Norman said he plans to have Smith aboard many of his starters. Smith also comes into the meet hot, having won the Delta Downs jockey title in a runaway during the winter meet that ended in early April.

Norman said he also plans to call on Carlos Gonzalez, among other riders. The colony at Louisiana Downs also includes Gerard Melancon, E.J. Perrodin, Luis Quinonez, John Jacinto, and Don Simington.

Franks Memorial wide open

Bebe Garcon, who closed fast when second by a neck in the $75,000 Dixie Poker Ace Handicap, will get a little more real estate to work with Friday in the opening-day $50,000 John Franks Memorial.

The one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, bred in Louisiana, drew a field of eight, including multiple stakes winner White Star.

Bebe Garcon raced over 7 1/2 furlongs last out in the Dixie Poker at Fair Grounds and rallied from ninth to be runner-up to Mr. Sulu. Before that race, Bebe Garcon ran second in an open-company allowance at Fair Grounds.

Trainer Noral Tate has given the mount on the gelding to Perrodin.

Renovated track surface

Harrah's, the casino company that owns Louisiana Downs, added a new slots facility and restaurant area in the grandstand last year, and this year has continued to make improvements to the racing side of operations. One of them is the addition of new organic material to the racing surface.

"It's a more resilient bark," said Ray Tromba, vice president of racing operations for Louisiana Downs. "It creates - and has - more moisture in it for the drier conditions And what we've already seen is that its drying agents are superior to anything [else] we've had after rains."

Claim policy on EPO

In a policy similar to one employed at Oaklawn Park this winter, owners who claim a horse at Louisiana Downs have the option of testing that horse for Erythropoietin, or EPO, antibodies. Owners must check a box on the claim slip, and incur the cost for the test, which is $50.

If a horse tests positive for certain EPO antibodies, the new owner has 48 hours to request the claim be voided. There are variations of the policy in place in New York and Indiana.

EPO is a natural hormone, but there is a synthetic form and it is considered a performance enhancer.

Colt for Midge Too

Midge Too, champion Sprinter at Louisiana Downs in 2000 and 2001, has had her first foal, a colt by the Storm Cat stallion Top Venture. Midge Too has since been bred back to top Southwest stallion Valid Expectations, said trainer Jerry Cart, who co-owns her with Lynette Burns.

Midge Too, a Louisiana-bred, won 17 races and $506,283. Cart's current stable star, Mauk Four, is being pointed for the $50,000 Alliance at Louisiana Downs on Saturday.

* In a policy outlined in the condition book, the use of cheaters, blinkers that have a minimal cup, will not be allowed this meet at Louisiana Downs.

At a glance: Louisiana Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 93 days; Friday through Oct. 9; racing on a Thursday-through-Sunday basis most weeks, and on three holiday Mondays: May 30, July 4, and Sept. 5; no Thursday racing on May 5, June 2, July 7, and Sept. 8.

POST TIME: 1:30 p.m. Central, except Super Derby Day, Oct. 1, when first post is noon


Sept. 17Louisiana Breeders' Festival$880,000
Oct. 1Super Derby (G2)750,000
Oct. 1Harrah's Juvenile BC125,000
Oct. 2Harrah's Louisiana Downs BC125,000



LOCATION: Located at the intersections of Interstates 20 and 220, or 8000 East Texas Street, Bossier City, La., 71111.

PHONE: (318) 742-5555

INTERNET: www.ladowns.com