04/27/2005 12:00AM

Now facing its competition head to head


In a show of strength, the slots-rich Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., has made bold changes to its racing calendar and racing program for the 93-date meet that opens on Friday. The season will continue through Oct. 9.

Louisiana Downs will have its earliest start since changing its schedule in response to the opening of its chief rival, Lone Star Park near Dallas, in 1997. The earlier opening allows Louisiana Downs to race throughout the lucrative Triple Crown season.

Louisiana Downs, which is owned by casino giant Harrah's, has boosted the purse of its marquee race, the Grade 2 Super Derby, from $500,000 to $750,000, and moved the distance of the race back to 1 1/4 miles. The track has also increased daily purses to $210,000. Purses will remain at that level throughout the meet rather than dropping to the $150,000 level as they did last fall. Last year, daily purses for the complete meet averaged $187,000.

Louisiana Downs will overlap with Lone Star, which pays $225,000 a day in purses, until July 17, and with Evangeline Downs, the Opelousas, La., track that is averaging $165,000 a card, until Labor Day.

"The overlap is in a sense a response from us not only to the business model that we believe works best for Harrah's Louisiana Downs, but it's also a response to what horsemen in and around this area have wanted now for a long time," said Ray Tromba, vice president of racing operations at Louisiana Downs.

"Judging by what I see at Lone Star, and judging by what I see at Evangeline, and judging from what I expect to happen here, I think we'll all do just fine."

In another change, daily first post has been moved up to 1:30 p.m. Central.

Slots began operating at Louisiana Downs on May 21, 2003. For the month of March 2005, gross revenues were $9.1 million, according to records kept by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. That figure is up from the $4.8 million in gross slots revenues at the track in March 2004.

"When slots came here, we said that it would take a while to stabilize and get better, and that's what's happening," said Tromba.

The Oct 1 Super Derby will be telecast live on ESPN. The Super Derby is the richest of 61 stakes this meet, which are worth more than $4 million.