09/28/2004 11:00PM

Slots continue to work their magic

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As the slot machines churn at Delta Downs, the track continues to grow. The home of the $1 million Delta Jackpot, Delta Downs will soon be home to a 203-room hotel adjacent to the grandstand and casino that has been fueling record purses at the small track located just across the Texas border in Vinton, La.

Delta will open for a 101-night meet on Friday. The meet will run through April 2, 2005, and there will be 15 more racing dates than in 2003.

"We're starting earlier this year, and that's at the request of horsemen," said Chris Warren, director of racing and simulcast for Delta. "They wanted more racing."

Purses will average $175,000 a night, Warren said, with the 46-race stakes schedule budgeted at $4 million. The richest race of the meet is the Delta Jackpot, a 1 1/16-mile stakes for 2-year-olds, which was elevated to the seven-figure level in 2003. The race will share the Dec. 4 card with the $250,000 Delta Princess for 2-year-old fillies, and first post for the program will be a 3 p.m. Central.

"We decided to go with the twilight post time, which will enable us to get into more sites during the day, especially on the West Coast," said Warren. "It also won't be so late on the East Coast, and more people that are at the racetrack during the day might see the race."

Early nominations for the Delta Jackpot closed on Sept. 24 with 77 horses made eligible for the race for $100 each. "It's our first time with early-bird nominations," said Trent McIntosh, racing secretary at Delta. "Last year, we had 88 nominations, and it was free."

Nominations remain open through Nov. 18, for a fee of $750.

Mr. Jester won last year's Delta Jackpot, beating eventual graded stakes winner Fire Slam.

McIntosh said all 1,260 stalls at Delta are expected to be filled for the meet. The largest outfits include those of defending training champ Keith Bourgeois as well as Doris Hebert and Chad Hassenpflug. Newcomers include Layne Giliforte, whose clients include Eugene Melnyk, owner of top sprinter Speightstown.

Giliforte is expected to have a string of 20 horses at Delta.

Among riders, Steve Bourque will be looking for his eighth title in a colony that includes C.J. Woodley, Guy Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Marlon St. Julien, Kerwin Clark, and Ricky Faul.

Construction on the hotel is scheduled to be complete by early 2005. It is a 10-story hotel, and it will have a lounge, entertainment complex, and a food court.

Believe Im Special will shoot for his third straight win in the $40,000 Racino Inaugural on Friday night. He set a track record in the five-furlong race last year for trainer Thomas Sam.

At a Glance: Delta Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 101 days; Friday through April 2, 2005; racing Wednesday through Saturday night; special Tuesday cards on Nov. 23 and Dec. 21; no racing on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

POST TIMES: 6:45 p.m. Central except for Tuesdays when first post is 2:30 p.m. Special post for the $1 million Delta Jackpot card Dec. 4 is 3 p.m.

HIGHLIGHTS: $1 million Delta Jackpot and the $250,000 Delta Princess, both Dec. 4; Louisiana Premiere Night, 10 stakes for Louisiana-breds worth $1 million, Feb. 5; $100,000 Goddess Breeders' Cup, April 1; $125,000 Gulf Coast Breeders' Cup Classic, April 2.

ADMISSIONS: Free

SEATING: Apron (outdoors), $3; terrace (indoors), $5. Children age 3 and under admitted free.

PARKING: Free

LOCATION: 2717 Delta Downs Dr., Vinton, La., 70668. From Interstate-10 east, take exit 4 and following the signs to Delta.

PHONE: (337) 589-7441

INTERNET: www.deltadowns.com