New standards established for Louisiana Downs, other state tracks

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

No matter if you spend a day at Louisiana Downs, or one of the state’s other three horse racetracks, you don’t want to see a grandstand in disrepair.

You don’t want to see worn and trampled landscaping.

You don’t want to have limited food options.

Now, it’s a sure bet those things will be less likely to happen.

Tuesday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 1055. The new law requires Louisiana Downs, Fair Grounds (New Orleans), Evangeline Downs (St. Landry Parish), and Delta Downs (Vinton) to spend money necessary to meet minimum standard requirements in several areas. Those requirements will be established and enforced by the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC).

A track’s failure to comply could mean a fine, and suspension of the track’s license.

“Evidently the legislature thought it was necessary to set these minimum standards,” said Charles Gardiner III, Executive Director of the LSRC. “I think it will give the racing commission a lot of authority. If at any time the commission feels that a track is not performing or taking care of its facility to the commission’s satisfaction, (the LSRC) can rely on those minimum standards and rules by which a track, as a condition of their license, will have to adhere to.”

In anticipation of HB 1055 becoming law, the LSRC recently began efforts to establish those “minimum standards.”

“That’s a work in progress,” Gardiner said. “This is all fairly new to us. I think it’s a novel approach. There are going to be discussions held, I’m sure, among certain committees on the racing commission, and the (racetracks). Hopefully those discussions will result in a baseline.”

Under HB 1055, the state’s tracks are required to submit to the LSRC a plan of operation for each fiscal year. That plan must include expenditure details related to — among other things — customer service, marketing and promotions, capital improvements, and facility maintenance. “Facility Maintenance” includes the track’s racing surface, barns, grandstands, and paddocks.

“We’re already doing the things they are requesting,” said Mitch Dennison, General Manager of Racing at Louisiana Downs. “Our job is to update the commission with our progress reports. We don’t see a problem with it. I think what the bill does is create a better line of communication with the racing commission and that’s better for Louisiana racing as a whole.”

The bill’s author, Representative Jason Hughes (D-Orleans Parish), did not return several requests for comment.

Two main improvements at Louisiana Downs — which will fall under the new law — have been in areas fans will never see.

The “test barn” is where a horse is taken after a race for blood and urine tests, “to make sure the horses are racing legally, with no illegal medication,” Dennison explained.

After years of neglect, Dennison said the track is in the process of installing surveillance cameras.

“We want to make racing as transparent as possible, and make our facility safer and better,” Dennison said.

Jockeys spend long days at the track, from early morning workouts to late afternoon races. Yet, since 2013, Dennison said there hasn’t been a jockey kitchen at Louisiana Downs, where riders can buy and eat meals.

Work is being done to solve that issue.

“They will be able to purchase a burger, a sandwich,” Dennison said. “There will be hot meals. There will be candy and concession foods there as well.”

Now that HB 1055 is law, tracks must submit their reports on a quarterly basis, starting on or before Oct. 20.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Downs