03/30/2004 12:00AM

One last fling at track's old site


CARENCRO, La. - Out with the old and in with the new.

While that phrase will be more appropriate for Evangeline Downs in 2005, when racing will be held at the track's new facility some 15 miles north on I-49, this year's 87-day meeting, which begins Thursday, promises to bring its share of changes.

First and foremost is the additional purse money available to horsemen. The slots casino at the site of the new Evangeline Downs - the first facility in the country to be built as a "racino" - has been in operation since Dec. 19, and in the first 2 1/2 months of operation has generated more than $1.5 million for the purse account. Purses in the first condition book have almost doubled, from $63,000 a day a year ago to $125,000 this season. In addition, a supplement ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 per race will be available to Louisiana-breds who compete in open company, a measure designed to help ease congestion at the entry box in statebred races.

The stakes program has also been beefed up, with $125,000 in purse increases from last year. The season's highlight for older horses, the Evangeline Mile on Aug. 14, will now be run for $100,000.

Stakes races for 2-year-olds, a popular staple at Evangeline since it began operation in 1966, will also benefit from the increases. The D.S. "Shine" Young Memorial Futurity is now guaranteed at $100,000 and will be contested on July 3. The $75,000 John Franks Memorial Sales Stakes, for juveniles who passed through the Evangeline 2-year-olds in training sale in March, and the $75,000 Lafayette Stakes each received $25,000 raises.

Defending Evangeline training champion Keith Bourgeois, who narrowly won the training title over Doris Hebert at the recently completed Delta Downs meet, will likely do battle with that same rival beginning Thursday. Longtime regulars such as Dale Angelle, Sam Breaux, and Don Cormier Sr. are set to compete, and national powerhouse Steve Asmussen also has a string locally and is expected to make an impact.

C.J. Woodley returns to defend his riding crown from a year ago, following another solid season at Delta. The other top-five riders from last year also are expected to return: Rex Stokes, Josh Romero, Brian Hernandez, and Guy Smith, who was second to Steve Bourque in the Delta standings.

Warren Groce, a native of New Orleans, returns to his home state as Evangeline's new racing secretary. Groce, the former racing secretary at the now-defunct Jefferson Downs near New Orleans, also worked as Mervin Muniz's assistant at Fair Grounds before moving on to be racing secretary at Sportsman's Park, Ellis Park and, most recently, Hoosier Park.