05/14/2008 11:00PM

Plenty of changes set for new meet


Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., moves into its 35th season of racing Saturday under new ownership, with a new hotel on the property, and a Win and You're In race on its Super Derby undercard. The track has also tweaked its post times, made some adjustments to its stakes schedule, and lured some sizeable new outfits from Texas.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby remains the richest race of the meet, which runs for 85 days through Oct. 18. It will be one of six stakes worth a cumulative $1.2 million on the Sept. 20 program, with the $150,000 Tiznow Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles added to the lineup for 2008.

"The Tiznow is a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile," said Mark Midland, vice president of racing operations for Louisiana Downs.

The home of 1,350 slot machines, Louisiana Downs races under the brand of casino giant Harrah's Entertainment, which was acquired by private equity firms Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group in a deal finalized in the first quarter of 2008. Despite the shift in ownership, things have hummed along during the offseason. A 151-suite hotel just east of the grandstand is scheduled to open June 3, Midland said. It is owned and will be operated by Marriott.

"Some of the rooms have an excellent view of the racetrack," Midland said.

This meet, Louisiana Downs will ease into its racing schedule. After opening on Kentucky Derby Day for the past three seasons, the meet begins two weeks later. Louisiana Downs is also racing Saturdays and Sundays only in May, then will shift to its traditional Thursday-through-Sunday schedule for the remainder of the meet. The schedule reduces some of the summer-long overlap with meets at Evangeline Downs near Lafayette, La., and Lone Star Park near Dallas.

"The calendar, it's a little different, and it's started out great so far," Midland said. "We have 108 horses on the program for 10 races Saturday, and entries are dynamite on Sunday as well."

In another schedule change, first post on Fridays has been moved to 3:10 p.m. Central. Other cards will start a little earlier than last year, at 1:15 p.m. Louisiana Downs's races will be simulcast to racetracks and offtrack betting sites throughout North America, but as of Thursday they were not scheduled to be available on account wagering platforms. The blackout is the result of a dispute over the amount of revenue horsemen receive from account wagering companies.

Purses this meet at Louisiana Downs are projected at $193,000 a day. The track's 1,500-plus stalls have been allotted, with 15 to 20 outfits on a waiting list and training centers in the area at or near capacity, said Doug Bredar, racing secretary at Louisiana Downs. Trainers John Locke, Michelle Lovell, and Bob Young are among the new stables in from Texas, while defending champ Jorge Lara is part of a strong group of regulars that includes Steve Asmussen, Bret Calhoun, Pat Mouton, and Al Stall Jr. The defending riding champ is John Jacinto.

"I think the quality is as strong as I've ever seen it," Bredar said of the horse population. "Obviously, it's only my second year here, but I've followed this meet from afar and I think we'll definitely be putting out a pretty good package here."

The 42-race, $3.8 million stakes schedule will be launched Saturday, with six Louisiana-bred stakes worth a cumulative $300,000. The multi-stakes card continues a theme put into play here in 2007.

"We feel that's a real successful formula for us," Midland said. "So, in addition to our three big days of Champions Day, Prelude Day, and Super Derby Day, we've got four other days where there's groupings of three, four, or even six stakes races.

"It's ideal to really mark a spot on the calendar for both horsemen and customers that these are can't-miss weekends with all the stakes action."

The stakes Saturday figure to produce starters for the Louisiana Downs Champions Day program Aug. 2. Chief among the starters are Tortuga Flats, the horse of the meet last season who takes on multiple stakes winner Raspberry Wine in the $50,000 Seven Stars.