State, LaDowns concur on changes to halt looming purse deficit, hike betting handles

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Since Louisiana Downs’ thoroughbred meet began May 6, the Bossier City racetrack has paid out an average of $155,000 a day in purse money.

Problem is, according to the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LAHBPA), that’s more money than the track can afford, based on projections of what it will take in the rest of the meet.

That means changes are coming to the Downs, which is on track for a purse deficit of as much as $2 million dollars.

At an emergency online meeting of the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) Friday morning, initially called to address unrelated issues elsewhere, commissioners unanimously approved three adjustments to the track’s schedule:

– The number of races per day will be reduced from eight to seven.

– Post time each day will move from 2:05 to 3:35.

– There will be fewer Allowance races, which typically pay larger purses.

A request for these changes, which will start July 1, was made by the LAHBPA, in cooperation with the Downs.

“Reducing to seven races a day will mitigate about $750,000 of the overpayment,” LAHBPA Executive Director Ed Fenasci told fellow commissioners. “We’re hopeful having a later post time will have a positive effect on the handle (the total amount of money wagered on races at the Downs), which is currently down four percent, even though the quality of racing at Louisiana Downs has significantly improved from last year…. Instead of offering as many allowance races as they’ve been offering, they’re going to adjust the mix to bring the potential purse overpayment down.”

Instead of providing a track official to answer questions Friday, the Journal received a statement Friday evening released through the track’s public relations agency saying in part that the Downs is “committed to continuing to work alongside our horsemen, the HBPA, and the LSRC for the betterment of our race product and Louisiana racing as a whole.”

Last year, there was a purse shortage of $600,000 at the Downs, and $800,000 at Evangeline Downs, caused not by either track, but by an overpayment by the LAHBPA. That deficit resulted in the number of race days at both tracks this year being reduced from 84 to 61 by the LSRC, bringing those tracks in line with the other two in Louisiana.

Friday morning, commission member Lane Cortez questioned the move advocated by Fenasci to stage one less race each day.

“I think we’re headed in the wrong direction, reducing the (number of) races per day,” Cortez said before the vote. “I understand we have to do it if we have to do it, but it’s the sign of death. We’re going in the wrong direction. We’ve tried that in the past. We need to move to eight, nine, 10 races a day. If we do that, maybe we need less days in the meet.”

Starting the daily race card later in the afternoon has nothing to do with summertime comfort for you or the horses. It is all about avoiding, as much as possible, racing concurrently with tracks which feature better horses — something that is attractive to gamblers across the country.

“Many of my members thought that particularly on Saturday when (Louisiana Downs) is running against the NYRA (New York Racing Association) tracks and the Kentucky tracks head-to-head, that people who like to wager are paying attention to those tracks, and ignoring Louisiana Downs,” Fenasci told the Journal following the commission meeting.

As evidence, Fenasci noted that last Monday, June 19, more than $1 million was bet on races at the Downs. That compared with the previous Saturday’s handle of just over $300,000.

“I think it highlights how much of a difference running when those other prime tracks are not running can make a big difference.”

Commissioners said they are open to discussing the Downs moving to a Sunday-Wednesday schedule, perhaps as early as before the end of the current meet Sept. 12. A track official concurred at Friday’s meeting.

“I think we need to get away from Saturdays, and possibly go to Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” said Matt Crawford, the track’s Director of Racing.

The LAHBPA and Downs’ management were originally going to — in three weeks — report back to the commission on the effects of the changes approved Friday. However, the commission asked to hear the results after two racing weekends (eight race days).

Commissioners are expected to meet in July to discuss the Downs’ future racing schedule.

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