Night racing on the table for Louisiana Downs

NIGHT MOVES:  Evangeline Downs, now in Opelousas, has been racing under the lights at night for decades. (Photo by BRENNAN LEBLANC,, courtesy Evangeline Downs)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

This time next year, you could be watching horse racing under the lights at Louisiana Downs.

Monday, the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) requested the Bossier City track get two proposals for the installation of lights. The LSRC expects to hear back from the Downs at the commission’s October meeting.

“It’s been proved the later the post time, and the less (Louisiana Downs) tries to run against the California tracks and the big tracks on the (East) coast — the later we start, the better the (betting) handle,” LSRC member Mike McHalffey told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Monday afternoon. That’s been proven dramatically this year.”

The Downs is the only thoroughbred track in the state which does not have lights. McHalffey emphasized that night racing would be beneficial not only to bettors, but to horses.

“Right now is a great example,” McHalffey said. “It’s been averaging 110-115 degrees, and (Louisiana Downs is) running in the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day. I don’t think it’s good for the horses. I don’t think it’s good for the handle. It’s time to go a different direction.”

McHalffey said the Downs will be responsible for the cost of installing lights.

“The HBPA (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) has requested it. We have now asked for the proposals. So, we’re going to go forward with that, in my opinion, in the next six months.”

The LSRC also met last Saturday and approved a 76-day thoroughbred meet at Louisiana Downs in 2024. Opening day will be Friday, May 3 — the day before the Kentucky Derby. The meet will end Tuesday, September 24.

“At the last committee meeting, they proposed 56 days, but we told them the (state) Legislature said 76 days unless you have an economic excuse not to do that,” McHalffey explained. “Obviously, they didn’t.

“According to management, their handle is up and their slot machine (revenue) is up. So, they got 76 days. The Legislature said they wanted as little overlap as possible, so we’re running Louisiana Downs basically Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Evangeline Downs is going to run Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

The Downs’ proposal indicated the track did not want to start next year’s meet until after the Kentucky Derby, which will be May 4. That, despite — according to McHalffey — Derby Day traditionally being one of the local track’s biggest-bet days of the year.

“The HBPA wanted them to catch the Kentucky Derby weekend, which they didn’t have in (their proposal.) They wanted to start later. I had to add 10 days, so I added to the beginning. The HBPA wanted it, so we decided to do it.”

Another topic of conversation during the two days of LSRC meetings was Louisiana Downs’ overpayment of purse money.

“They’re projected to be half-a-million dollars overdrawn,” McHalffey said. “They’ve paid out half-a-million dollars too much out of their purse account … . (At the end of the year) we will look at the purse account and see how much it actually comes to, but the HBPA estimated (the Downs) is going to overpay $500,000 at the end of this meet, and there are 10 days (now nine) left until the end of the meet.”

McHalffey said it will likely take a few months for accountants, the Louisiana State Police, and auditors to look at the final numbers.

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