11/29/2005 1:00AM

Track steps in to assist hurricane-damaged Delta

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Evangeline Downs (above) will run 26 dates originally slated for Delta.

OPELOUSAS, La. - For the second time in two weeks, a Louisiana track has come to the rescue of a scheduled meeting put in peril by the two hurricanes that ravaged the southern regions of the state in August and September.

Fair Grounds opened an abbreviated season at Louisiana Downs on Nov. 19 because of damage to the New Orleans track from Hurricane Katrina, and on Thursday, Evangeline begins a meet initially slated to be run at Delta Downs, which was damaged by Hurricane Rita.

Evangeline and its parent company, Peninsula Gaming, have committed to conduct the entire 66-day meet if necessary. But following a meeting of the Louisiana State Racing Commission on Monday, a tentative return to Delta Downs has been set for Jan. 18 - and Delta officials say they expect the track to be ready then. As a result, the Evangeline meeting is expected to comprise 26 dates, through Jan. 15. Delta Downs would then pick up its dates and race through March 25.

"We really needed this meeting," trainer Glenn Delahoussaye said Tuesday. "Our gratitude goes out to Evangeline Downs for the opportunity to help get our industry back on its feet."

In the meantime, racing will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule at Evangeline, with the $75,000 Peninsula Gaming Inaugural Stakes set for opening night. The Delta Jackpot, a $1 million race for 2-year-olds scheduled for December - and that reached graded status last season for the first time - will not be run this year, but much of the original stakes schedule is expected to be salvaged.

Heading the field in the Inaugural is Zarb's Luck. A winner of 12 of his 49 career starts, Zarb's Luck will be making his first start over the Evangeline oval but should have little trouble handling the five furlongs of the Inaugural, since he is a three-time winner at the distance. Guy Smith will journey down from his home base of Louisiana Downs to ride for trainer Edward Johnston.

Britt's Jules, a stakes winner last year at 3, when he also finished third in the Grade 2 Super Derby, will attempt to pick up his first win this season. Last seen in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs on Oct. 30, Britt's Jules will find the company on Thursday night much friendlier. He has been training very well for trainer Eric Guillot, who has given Coby Bourque the call.

All Wired Up, a five-furlong specialist, merits respect in the Inaugural on his speed alone. He was the winner of the C.B. Stephens Memorial Stakes at the Delta Downs spring meeting, in which he quickly opened up a daylight advantage after the start. That effort produced a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, and a repeat would make him tough Thursday night. Trainer Brandon Marks will give Marlon St. Julien the ride.

At a glance: Evangeline

RACING DATES: Dec. 1 through Jan. 15, Thursdays through Sundays.

POST TIME: 6:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

HIGHLIGHTS: $75,000 Peninsula Gaming Inaugural Dec. 1; $100,000 Peninsula Gaming's Diamond Jo Dec. 31; $50,000 Lil Liza Jane Stakes Jan. 13; $50,000 A Toast to Junius Stakes Jan. 14.

ADMISSIONS: General grandstand, free; clubhouse, $3; Silks dining room, food and beverage minimum.

PARKING: General, free; valet, $5.

SIMULCASTING: Daily

LOCATION: Intersection of I-49 and U. S. Highway 190, approximately 20 miles north of Lafayette, La.

ADDRESS: 2235 Creswell Lane Ext. Opelousas, LA 70570

PHONE: 337-594-3000

INTERNET: www.evangelinedowns.com