By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
When the Louisiana Racing Commission meets today at Delta Downs in Vinton, another step to returning the Super Derby to Bossier City’s Louisiana Downs is expected.
The commission will consider LaDowns’ stakes race schedule, which does include a Sept. 2 Super Derby, a $200,000 event for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles, without a graded designation. That has been listed at Bloodhorse via the National Stakes Conditions Book, a precursor to alert the nation’s horsemen.
It will be the first time the Super Derby has been run since 2019. After taking over last winter, Louisiana Downs Racetrack and Casino owner Kevin Preston last spring announced a commitment to return the race as a $300,000 event last Sept. 10, but a reduction in purses late in last year’s meet was among factors that quashed the renewal.
The Super Derby has been the highest-profile race run at the local track since the first one was staged in 1980. However, steep attendance declines and other factors, including the 2020 pandemic, have stalled the race’s renewal.
However, the 2023 Super Derby seems to be on better footing, said Mike McHalffey, who represents Bossier Parish on the state racing commission. The Louisiana Downs stakes schedule will be discussed in today’s meeting.
McHalffey also confirmed the reduction of thoroughbred race days at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs in Opelousas by 23 days, from 84 to 61. The commission already has approved this reduction, he said, in an emergency meeting and is working with the state attorney general’s office to draft legislation to set a lower, uniform number for all four tracks in Louisiana, a topic that has not been addressed in decades.
“We’ve made some suggestions, and we’ll see how it works through the legislative process,” he said. “It was an economic disaster about to occur, because the Louisiana HBPA (Horsemans’ Benevolent and Protective Association, which handles accounting for races in the state) overpaid the purse account at Louisiana Downs $600,000 for last year. So they were short $600,000 at Louisiana Downs for this (upcoming) meet and $800,000 at Evangeline Downs, and we were in a pickle. That’s what we did on a temporary basis for just these two meets until the legislation can get worked out.
“The people in the industry couldn’t have made a living running 84 days this year,” he said. “Basically they would have been running for $85,000 a day and that’s not living wages in the horse business.
“We used force majeure, which removes liability for anything that causes a disaster that we have no control over,” he said. “We had to get all the lawyers to agree, and they did, which is a good thing. All the horsemen are happy. We didn’t really cut the time period they’re running, we just stretched it out a bit, so there wouldn’t be much dead time between meets. When they’re not running, they’re not making money.”
Louisiana Downs will be running on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to open the thoroughbred meet May 7. When Evangeline closes later this summer, Louisiana Downs will add a racing day, McHalffey said.
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