09/29/2005 11:00PM

Relocated Fair Grounds meet approved


The Louisiana Racing Commission on Friday took action to keep the state's racing calendar constant in the face of two hurricanes that, in less than one month, have temporarily shut down two of Louisiana's four racetracks. Hurricane Katrina struck Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Aug. 28, while Hurricane Rita crippled the stable area at Delta Downs in Vinton on Sept. 24.

The commission gave unanimous approval for moving an abbreviated 37-date Fair Grounds meet to Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, with the season to start on Nov. 19 and run through Jan. 22. The dates are the same ones agreed to earlier this month by Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Fair Grounds, and the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

There is about $8 million in the Fair Grounds purse account, and daily distribution for the Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs meet will be about $270,000.

To free up dates for the Thoroughbred meet, the commission also approved the transfer of fall Quarter Horse dates from Louisiana Downs to Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, with some details still to be determined. Quarter Horses began racing at Evangeline last Saturday, and with the new dates, racing for that breed will continue at the track through Nov. 27. There is about $5 million in the Louisiana Downs purse account for Quarter Horses.

The commission also took initial steps to move Delta's upcoming Thoroughbred meet to Evangeline. The season would start on or about Dec. 1 and continue through March 26, but a portion of the meet could be run at Delta, depending on a suitability report given by the track's owners. A deadline of Nov. 15 was set for the report, according to Charles Gardiner, executive director of the commission. Delta was scheduled to open an 88-date meet for Thoroughbreds on Oct. 21.

Fair Grounds and Delta operate the two winter Thoroughbred meets in Louisiana, and the action taken by the commission on Friday went a long way toward giving the state's horsemen direction on where racing will be held in the coming months, and alleviating shipping confusion. Louisiana Downs, for example, is scheduled to end its Thoroughbred meet Oct. 9.

* In business from a meeting canceled last month because of Katrina, the commission approved a 98-date Thoroughbred meet at Louisiana Downs in 2006. The meet will start on May 5 and run through Nov. 4.