05/07/2008 12:00AM

So many runners track adds 11th race


OPELOUSAS, La. - The Louisiana State Racing Commission badge that trainers must wear has a second purpose these days at Evangeline Downs. In addition to providing proof that a trainer is licensed, it also serves as a nametag in what has become almost a horsemen's convention atmosphere.

In a true testament to the newfound popularity of this track, no fewer than 99 trainers will send out starters on Friday night's 11-race program. In comparison, last Saturday's 12-race card at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby alone accounted for 15 different barns, only 70 trainers were represented.

"It is a racing secretary's dream," said Jason Boulet, who holds the enviable position at Evangeline. "We have over 5,000 sets of foal papers on file here in our racing office. In addition to a full backside, we are averaging over 60 ship-ins every night. It has been unbelievable."

In this age of dwindling field sizes and with many jurisdictions scrambling to put full race cards together, Boulet can draw from an almost an embarrassing wealth of horseflesh.

"We do seem to be bucking the national trend," Boulet said. "If there is a problem, and it is a nice one for us to have, is that some horsemen are having a hard time getting into a race. That is why, after negotiations with the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, we have added an 11th race to our programs."

Boulet said the extra race per night will remain in place until Louisiana Downs, which opens with an abbreviated two-day-a-week schedule on May 17, goes to a four-day race week in early June.

"We want to help the horsemen out all we can," he said. "When we do go back to 10 races a night, we can start to maybe think about a possible purse increase as our racing handle and slots business are going great."

The positive trend at the betting windows came to a head last Saturday when Evangeline recorded a record handle of $2,444,675, bettering the previous mark of $2,218,014 recorded on Louisiana Legends Night in 2007.

"We are very pleased with our results. We had a very solid crowd for our afternoon simulcasting and that spilled over to our live program." said Steve Darbonne, the track's director of racing operations. "The word is spreading about our competitive brand of racing with full fields, and bettors across the country are responding."