09/23/2005 11:00PM

Tracks assess Rita's impact


Hurricane Rita's impact on the four Louisiana and Texas tracks in its path was still being determined on Saturday afternoon, although Louisiana Downs, Evangeline Downs, and Sam Houston appear not to have been seriously damaged.

Delta Downs is located in Vinton, La., which is nestled between Beaumont, Texas, and Lake Charles, La., and is close to where Rita made landfall. The storm's impact on Delta is still being assessed and the track is closed until further notice, according to an official with the track's owner, Boyd Gaming. A toll-free hotline has been set up for employees of the track, as well as those of Boyd's casino in nearby Kenner, La. Employees can call (866) 767-2740 for support.

The storm was ongoing at Louisiana Downs near Shreveport, which will hold the Super Derby next Saturday, but the track did not sustain any serious damage, according to track officials. A spokesperson with Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La., said the track weathered the storm "with flying colors," and Sam Houston Race Park in Houston has also dodged serious damage and is scheduled to open for simulcasting Monday.

Louisiana Downs is located about four hours north of the coast, and as of early Saturday afternoon, there was no flooding at the track and damage was minimal, according to Ray Tromba, vice president of racing operations for Louisiana Downs.

"We have some water that's come into the building into the clubhouse, and we have a door that's been blown off a hinge," said Tromba. "I just got done driving the backstretch, and the horses look more curious than anything else."

Tromba said winds of up to 50 miles per hour had driven some water into the grandstand. He said estimates were that about five inches of rain had fallen in the area as of early Saturday afternoon. The storm was forecast to continue into Sunday.

"I'm optimistic that we'll weather the storm fine," he said. "I'm sure we'll have our bumps and bruises, but we'll be fine. Next week is a big week of racing here, and we're excited about that."

The Grade 2, $750,000 Super Derby is the richest race of the meet and will be telecast on ESPN. Entries for the race will be held Wednesday, as scheduled, and entries for Friday's card have been postponed from Sunday to Tuesday. One reason for that is Louisiana Downs has closed its track for training on Sunday. Entries for Thursday's races were taken at Louisiana Downs on Saturday.

Saturday, the grandstand remained open for simulcasting, and the track's slots casino and restaurants were also open, said Tromba. Louisiana Downs is scheduled to resume live racing Thursday, and the weekend forecast calls for "beautiful" weather, with temperatures in the low- to mid-80's, said Tromba.

Sam Houston sustained no flooding or significant wind damage and briefly lost power in the middle of the night Friday, said officials. The facility was shut down last Thursday through at least Saturday in anticipation of Rita, and on Saturday afternoon, officials said Sam Houston would also stay closed Sunday.

"Mayor Bill White of Houston has asked all non-essential Houston businesses to remain closed on Sunday, just to alleviate traffic and the concerns of people getting back on the road," said Martha Claussen, spokesperson for Sam Houston. "Our track officials decided the best thing to do would be to remain closed for simulcasting on Sunday, and it's the intent to reopen on Monday morning."

Louisiana Downs on Friday cancelled its live cards for Saturday and Sunday with the threat of Rita. Saturday morning, workouts were held over a sloppy main track, and Royal Saint and Key Issues, who are under consideration for the Super Derby, were able to put in their final preparations, each drilling five furlongs.

Evangeline Downs had canceled its Friday night and Saturday night races on Friday morning in anticipation of Rita. The track was "totally intact" after the storm, according to Julie Calzone, a spokesperson for Evangeline.

"The facility was designed to withstand the impact of a major hurricane, and it did," Calzone wrote in an e-mail late Saturday.