Do you know how hard it is to find ‘Happy 90th Birthday!’ napkins?
A ‘Happy 90th Birthday!’ banner?
A few weeks ago, we threw a surprise 90th birthday party for my father. 90! He was born at the height of the Great Depression when the unemployment rate was a tick under 25 percent. He’s lived through the administration of 15 presidents, Pearl Harbor, Elvis, the birth of the internet, and a whole lot more.
I usually take him to dinner on his birthday but hitting 90 seemed deserving of something more – much more. So, with help from my fiancée’ (I was way over my head), plans were made.
There would be a sit-down dinner (do you know how hard it is to find a place to cater a sit-down dinner?), a band, and a dance floor, all inside a really nice venue. Pops belongs to a dance group which dips and twirls and swings at this place every Thursday night, so we knew he and his friends would feel right at home.
Dad often mentions that a not-so-happy part of living this long is that a lot of his friends are gone. But on this night, 60 of them – virtually everyone who was invited – was there to yell “Surprise!”
But the night’s highlight would be my dad seeing his daughter, who had not been here in more than 20 years. She and her husband flew in from California under a cloud of secrecy.
We hired a professional photographer. I will call him Jeremy because that’s his name. And while Jeremy was being paid for a couple of hours’ work, I told him he was really there to get one shot – the money shot. That would be my dad’s expression when he saw his daughter. There could not be any excuses.
I gave Jeremy freedom to position my dad’s daughter wherever necessary to get the shot.
Pops walked through the doors and was stunned, greeted by so many friends and family. As he made his way through the crowd, I was Jeremy’s one-man security team, moving away anyone who threatened to come between Jeremy, my dad, and his daughter.
As Pops turned the corner, Jeremy’s camera began making a long series of clicking sounds. It was the moment, as my dad’s very sharp brain began processing that his daughter was hugging him. Surely Jeremy had nailed THE shot.
As someone with decades of professional videography experience, I can promise you nothing is certain. You think you got “The Shot,” but you never really know until you go back and look at the video. During my younger TV days, the late legend Bob Griffin sent me to shoot a playoff football game in Haynesville.
Not a Week 3 game – a playoff game. I was happy with what I saw in my viewfinder. But that happiness turned to sickness when I began editing highlights. Everything – and I mean everything – was orange, as if an atomic cloud had hovered over the tiny north Louisiana town. I had forgotten to white balance, a simple procedure which makes colors look like they’re supposed to look.
Fortunately, Jeremy had a much better evening than I did on that cold Friday night years ago. He absolutely nailed THE shot. I will have that picture forever – not just in a link to Jeremy’s website, but in my head. My 90-year-old father, who doesn’t look a day over 65 (OK, maybe 70), shocked beyond belief that he was face-to-face with his daughter.
My Pops is an optimistic soul. He just bought an eight-year extended warranty on his car, and a five-year warranty on his new washing machine. But reality says my dad is walking down the 18th fairway of life. Only God knows if it’s a long Par 5, or a short Par 4.
Who knows if he will see his daughter again?
I certainly don’t. But I do know him seeing her a few weeks ago meant the world to him.
A couple of familiar names finished atop the trainer and jockey standings, as Louisiana Downs’ 2023 thoroughbred meet came to an end Tuesday.
For the third straight year, Haughton’s Shane Wilson won the trainer’s title. In 210 starts, Wilson’s horses won 45 races, and earned $861,315. Joey Foster picked up two wins on the final day, to edge out Steve Asmussen for second place. Foster had 23 winners in 109 starts, which earned $356,892. Asmussen had 21 winners in 113 starts, which earned $338,040.
From the jockey colony, Jose Andres Guerrero was the best rider for a second straight year, with 70 wins in 336 starts. His mounts earned $1,189,953. Joel Dominguez was second with 53 wins in 314 starts, and the horses he rode earned $918,289. Emanuel Nieves finished third with 49 wins in 287 starts. His mounts earned $887,660.
Racing at the Bossier City track is scheduled to resume January 2, with the 2024 quarter horse meet. Next year’s 76-day thoroughbred meet is scheduled to start May 3.
It wasn’t like old times, but it was much better than recent times.
On the way to Louisiana Downs for last Saturday’s Super Derby, I saw something for the first time in a long (as in years) time. Driving on the overpass off I-20, I looked to my right and down, and saw lots of cars in the Bossier City track’s parking lot.
Now, it wasn’t like it usedto be on Derby Day, when the parking lot was full. But the scene caught me by surprise.
A pleasant surprise.
As soon as I opened the front door and walked into the facility, I heard something for the first time in a long (as in years) time. There was a buzz — the sound of excitement. It didn’t take long to find out from where that sound was coming. As I strolled through the first floor, I saw people.
Lots of people.
Not shoulder-to-shoulder people, like it used to be on Derby Day, but also nothing like what I’ve seen in recent years on a normal racing day (The Super Derby had not been run since 2019.) The first floor is mainly for people who like to walk around and informally sit at tables. Not only were most of the tables full — there were people sitting on things that aren’t designed for sitting.
I took the escalator to the second floor. Yes, there were plenty of seats available, but there were plenty of seats that weren’t available. I heard the sound made when there’s a large gathering, and with the grandstand acoustics, it sounded like there were more people.
Guess what else I saw for the first time in a long time — lines of people. People waiting to make a bet, preferring to speak with a person instead of punching a kiosk screen. People waiting to get a fish basket, or a margarita.
A ride to the 3rd floor, the clubhouse level, had me seeing lots of box seats filled. Again, there were some boxes available, but there were many which weren’t. I’m not sure if the track was serving a buffet — I didn’t want to hang around a place I wasn’t entitled.
When I was a kid, my mom and dad would go to the Downs. They liked to sit outside on the steps below the grandstand. That’s not for me (I like my air conditioning), but Saturday, it was for many people. They were smoking and throwing their cigarette butts and worthless betting slips on the concrete.
Now that was just like old times.
As the Super Derby 41 field of seven horses — none of which were considered elite — ran toward the finish line, the crowd roared. Okay, maybe cheered would be a more accurate word. Still, it was the sound that helps make racing so much fun to watch in person.
Even though the Super Derby isn’t what it used to be — a graded race with a $1 million or even $750,000 purse — the track’s hard-working, always friendly, rank-and-file staff did what it could to make the race look and feel big. Each horse’s name, and the Derby logo, were embroidered onto specially-made saddlecloths.
Instead of the usual recording of a bugler calling the horses to post, there was a gentleman doing the bugling. It was a well-intentioned touch, but his sound wasn’t as smooth and on-key as the recording.
There was a special Super Derby backdrop in the winner’s circle, which made for an attractive photo op.
It was a nice day to be at the track.
I say all this with a message for the Downs’ leadership team, which starts at the top with owner Kevin Preston, finishing his second year in charge.
See what happens when you promote horse racing just a little?
The bigger-than-normal crowd wasn’t there for food trucks, bounce houses, face painting, or weiner dog races. It was there because the Super Derby has a four-decade (give or take a few years) reputation of being a major sporting event. I can promise you most folks didn’t know the winner — Big Data — from Big Brother. They were there for the pageantry and excitement a “big race” brings.
So please open your eyes and reconsider (I’ve asked before) the way you promote horse racing. Use last Saturday’s Super Derby as a catalyst for bridging the large gap between the races and fans.
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.
How Did He Do That, under the schooling of the nation’s all-time winningest thoroughbred trainer, has been tabbed as the 2-1 morning line favorite for Super Derby 41 presented by Lip Chip, LLC, next Saturday, September 2, at Louisiana Downs.
As the Journal first reported Friday morning, Steve Asmussen committed to bringing the Iowa Derby winner to Bossier City for the $200,000, non-graded race over a-mile-and-an eighth on the dirt.
Post positions were drawn Friday, with the favorite slotted for the number 5 post in the seven-horse field.
At second-best odds is Promise Me A Ride (5-2), trained by Brad Cox. This year, Cox is the country’s leading trainer in money earned (18.8 million). Asmussen is second.
The Super Derby is returning for the first time since 2019. Asmussen-trained horses have won the last two.
Two of the top eight jockeys at Louisiana Downs’ current meet have Derby mounts — Joel
Dominguez (How Did He Do That) and J.P Vargas (Donegal Arrow).
The seven-horse field (from 32 nominations) is scheduled to break from the gate just before 5 p.m. next Saturday.
Steve Asmussen, North America’s all-time leading thoroughbred trainer with more than 10,000 wins, has committed to running one of his horses in next Saturday’s Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.
Thursday afternoon, Asmussen told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal he plans on running How Did He Do That in the $200,000, mile-and-an-eighth, non-graded stakes race for three-year-olds on Sept. 2.
“How Did He Do That is capable of winning the Super Derby, but has been inconsistent,” Asmussen said. “He needs to run the same race as in the Iowa Derby to win this.”
In the July 8 race at Prairie Meadows, How Did He Do That pulled off the upset. At odds of 48-1, the colt finished in a dead heat with One in Vermillion. However, the Judy and J. Kirk Robison-owned horse, bumped in deep stretch, won by way of disqualification. How Did He Do That has run once since, a sixth-place finish in the Ellis Park Derby August 13.
In six starts this year, How Did He Do That has a first and second place finish, while earning $208,745. For his career, How Did He Do That has 12 starts — with three first and one second place finishes, earning more than $300,000.
How Did He Do That will be a first-time starter at Louisiana Downs. Joel Dominguez — who leads the Downs’ jockey colony with 50 wins in 261 starts — will get the mount.
Post positions for Super Derby 41 will be drawn today.
A 76-day Louisiana Downs thoroughbred meet, consisting mostly of Sunday-Wednesday racing, will be proposed Sunday by the Racing Days Committee of the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC).
If adopted, the Downs’ schedule would start May 19 and end September 24. Racing would begin some three weeks later than this year, and not tie in opening day to the Kentucky Derby (May 4), which it has done in years past, including this year. Racing would end 12 days later than in 2023.
The 76-day meet would be 15 days more than this year’s meet. There would be seven days which overlap with racing at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas. The committee has been focused on limiting the number of times state tracks race on the same day.
The committee will also recommend that there be a minimum of 8-9 races each day.
The meeting is scheduled one day after a meeting of the Infrastructure Compliance Committee. Each of the state’s four tracks are expected to give progress reports and projected timelines on infrastructure plans previously approved by the LSRC.
Both meetings will take place at Evangeline Downs.
The nation’s top two trainers could have entries in Super Derby 41 at Louisiana Downs September 2.
The track received 32 nominations (which closed last Saturday) for the $200,000, non-graded stakes race, which returns after a four-year absence. Among them are 10 horses trained by Brad Cox, and one horse trained by Steve Asmussen.
When this past Sunday’s racing began, Cox’s entries had won $18.7 million, and had finished in the money 61 percent of the time. Asmussen’s horses had won $17.4 million, and had a win-place-show finish of 46 percent.
Louisiana Downs’ leading trainer, Shane Wilson, has two horses nominated (Calibrachoa Kid, He Gots to Go). When this past Sunday’s racing began, Wilson-trained horses had won more than $656,000.
The Super Derby — presented by Lip Chip — will be limited to 14 three-year-olds going a mile-and-an-eighth on the dirt. The field will be determined this week with first preference given to highest lifetime earnings in graded stakes races. Second preference will be given to highest lifetime earnings.
The drawing for post positions will be Friday. Racing on Super Derby Saturday will start at noon. The race has not been staged since 2019, but in its heyday last century annually attracted top names and horses in the industry.
Conditions for Super Derby 41, Louisiana Downs’ signature race which was last held in 2019, are now official.
The latest condition book released Sunday lists the Saturday, Sept. 2Derby as a mile-and-an-eighth stakes race on the dirt for three-year-olds.
The purse will be $200,000. According to Equibase, that equals the smallest purse (2017) in Derby history. According to Equibase, five times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the purse was $1 million. For the last two Super Derby runs (2018, 2019) before the race went on hiatus, the purse was $300,000.
This year’s Derby is not graded. From 1983-2001, it was a Grade I race which drew some of the country’s top horses. The Derby eventually dropped to Grades II and III before losing its graded status in 2017.
A maximum of 14 horses will go to post in Super Derby 41, each carrying 124 pounds.
This year’s Derby will be sponsored. The condition book refers to the race as “Super Derby Presented By Lip Chip, LLC.” According to its website, Lip Chip, based in San Antonio, deals in the microchipping and identifying of horses.
When Premier Gaming Group bought the Bossier City track early last year, the company’s founder and president, Kevin Preston, said the Derby would be held last September. However, less than a month before the race was to be run, it was cancelled. The change in plans came after the Downs — during its meet — reduced daily purse payments. Local horsemen voiced displeasure that a $300,000 Super Derby purse would be offered for one race. Track management acquiesced and reallocated that money to daily purses.
Entries to this year’s Derby, scheduled as the ninth race of the day, close Aug. 25.
Trainer Brett Brinkman is looking forward to watching how his four-year-old filly, Final Quest, runs in Saturday’s second race of Louisiana Cup Day at Louisiana Downs, against the state’s best Breds.
But he won’t be leaving the track once the horses cross the finish line.
Brinkman will stay for the third race. Not because a horse he trains will be running, but because of a horse Brinkman bred — Fort Polk.
“For me, I take more pride in the fact that I bred one of that caliber,” Brinkman told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal. “I know it sounds weird coming from a licensed trainer, but I think there’s a lot more that goes into breeding, raising and developing a horse. I had her for her first couple of wins and was happy to have her. I got offered a substantial amount of money and moved her on, because I’m in the business.”
Final Quest and Fort Polk are two of the horses that will run on a nine-race card exclusive to Louisiana Breds, with a total purse of $450,000 ($150,000 contributed by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, or LTBA). Six of the nine races will each have a purse of $75,000. Saturday is one of the Cup days held throughout the year at each of the state’s four major tracks.
“It’s like four Breeders’ Cups for Louisiana Breds,” said Roger Hetizmann, secretary/treasurer of the LTBA. “People around the country will be watching. The races are all stakes races. Who doesn’t like to sit down and watch and wager on a card of all-stakes races, instead of cheap horses? It draws attention to the racetrack, it draws attention to the Louisiana horsemen, and I think that all works hand-in-hand with each other.”
Since April, Brinkman has been training Final Quest for Saturday’s six-furlong Louisiana Cup Filly and Mare Sprint for three-year-olds and up. To be ridden by Thomas (Tommy) L. Pompell, Final Quest’s morning line odds are 15-1. The early 5-2 favorite is Free Like a Girl.
“(Final Quest) got real good at the end of (the Delta Downs meet), and at the beginning of (the Evangeline Downs meet),” Brinkman said. “She’s been kind of a work in progress. Free Like a Girl is the filly which stands out among all those fillies in that spot. I think a lot of my filly. I think she’s got a lot of talent. This is where we were pointing her, and we’re going to try and capitalize and get all we can.”
Brinkman had planned on having another horse (Grunt) run on Cup day. However, the heat took its toll on the colt.
“About two weeks ago when the weather really got hot and we had those consecutive days of 100-degree weather, his thermostat went out on me. He quit sweating. He’s not capable of exercising and training up to it right now.”
Louisiana Cup Day is intended to highlight the Louisiana Bred, which wasn’t always as well-regarded as it is now.
“The Louisiana Bred is a horse that many years ago was considered a lower breed,” Heitzmann said. “Something that no one really looked at or worried about. We’ve been doing everything — with the help of the state legislature, racetracks, and horsemen — to put the Louisiana Bred in the upper echelon of horse racing. We’ve been moving that way.
“We have horses that have been running in and winning graded stakes races around the country. We have top-name stallions coming into the state. We have well-known names in the business moving operations to the state, racing in Louisiana, and buying Louisiana Breds.”
And Saturday, the Bossier City track will be in the state’s racing spotlight.
“We want Louisiana Downs to be successful,” Heitzmann said. “We would love for Louisiana Downs to be the track it once was. In order to do that, you have to offer some better races. A Cup day at Louisiana Downs is good for them. It’s good for us. Everyone in this business depends on each other to make sure this business drives forward.”
In an effort to get young people interested in the sport, the LTBA Saturday will give away two $1,000 scholarships. You must have an ID, be registered for college this fall, and be present to win — the scholarships will be awarded after the fifth race. Registration starts one hour before first post time — which is 1:05 — and closes when Race No. 1 goes off.
“We want them to become interested in the sport,” Heitzmann said. “To me, the pageantry of horse racing is what sells horse racing. The beauty of the horse. The colors. The (post) parade. When you’re there, you can see it, touch it, smell it, feel it. As they run down the stretch, you can feel the ground shaking. To me, that’s what sells the game.”
Could arena football be coming back to Bossier City next year?
Probably not, but the Shreveport-Bossier Journal has learned there have been talks between management of Brookshire Grocery Arena, and the Arena Football League (AFL).
The AFL has been dormant since its 2019 season but is planning a comeback in 2024.
“ASM Global, the management company for Brookshire Grocery Arena, has been in discussions with the Arena Football League about having a team here in Bossier City,” Brookshire Grocery Arena General Manager Becky Bonnevier told the Journal Monday. “However, it is not likely that this will happen in 2024.”
The reason there is more pessimism than optimism is the lack of days the arena is available.
“They’re looking for weekend dates in the first and second quarters,” she said, “and most of those dates are already booked in 2024.”
Last week, the AFL announced plans to have 16 teams located throughout the country. One of those teams was announced as “Louisiana.” Following that news, TMZ Sports reported that the Louisiana team would be located in Lake Charles. However, the NBC affiliate there, KPLC-TV, quoted a statement from city officials which said Lake Charles “has not been involved in any serious discussions regarding the AFL’s interest in locating a team in the city.”
Bossier City was home to the relatively popular Battle Wings from 2001-2010. For all but the final year, the Battle Wings competed in arenafootball2 (AF2), which was part of the AFL, and consisted of teams in smaller markets.
Arena football is played on a 50-yard field, where it’s not uncommon for teams to routinely score 60 or 70 points each.
There are only 65 people traveling with the United States Women’s Soccer FIFA World Cup team.
A Shreveport native is one of them.
Lindsay Gosslee Langford, who graduated from Captain Shreve High School in 2000, is Team USA’s dietician and sports scientist. She is in New Zealand, as the red-white-and-blue prepare to begin World Cup play Friday. Action will also take place in Australia, with Sydney hosting the finals August 20.
“It’s a wild feeling to try and step back and fully realize the depth of what I have the privilege to do,” Langford told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal from Auckland, where it was 11:30 the next morning, and 59 degrees. “The tasks I have to accomplish each day are my main focus, but I’ve definitely had some moments of sitting down in my hotel room with the USA crest taped on our room walls. It’s everywhere, even down to the coffee bar. You get your coffee served with the USA soccer crest on top.”
Even though Langford — who lives in Indiana with her husband and two sons — has been working with USA Soccer for a while, it wasn’t a given she would make the trip.
“There are a limited amount of people (in the delegation) who are approved. It did come down to the last few months to see if it was approved. The plan was always to come, but there never was any confirmation until the last six to eight weeks.”
Langford, who studied nutrition and dietetics at Louisiana Tech and the University of Alabama, is responsible for what the 23 players eat during their (hopefully) seven-week stay.
“I build the menu and oversee all food service. We have a chef we brought with us, who fully executes the menu. But it is something I design, based on the training loads and the actual training calendar. If it’s a practice day or a game day, the menu would vary pretty drastically, depending on the demands of training that day.”
When it comes time to dine, Langford and the rest of the traveling party don’t have to worry about waiting in line with other hotel guests. They are the only hotel guests in what Langford described as “a five-star hotel.”
“Even the lights are placed in a certain color, depending on the time of day. If we want to promote recovery and sleep, the lights change to different colors. If we want to promote more energy, and more daylight and activation, the lights in the room change to a different color. It’s down to a science.”
And so is making sure each player is in her best physical condition.
“A lot of emphasis is on the recovery side of things for each individual player, based on morning screenings they do. It’s in-depth. The high-performance team has done a really great job, and I kind of ride their coattails.
“Each morning, the players fill out a wellness questionnaire. They run through some morning tests, seeing how their body is feeling — anything from sleep, to muscle aches and pains. That really determines what recovery modalities we are going to use for them during the day.”
Should Team USA win its third straight World Cup, and fifth overall, emotions will be flowing. But Langford is already emotional — her voice cracking when asked what it would be like to be a part of history.
“It’s funny to get emotional about that question just in an interview. I can’t imagine. It would be pretty cool. I’m hopeful,” she said.
Soon, for the third time during the 2023 Louisiana Downs thoroughbred meet, there will be a different starting post time.
The track announced via Twitter that beginning July 22, each race day will begin at 4:05. That’s 35 minutes later than the current post time, and two hours later than post time (2:05) when the meet began May 6.
The latest move was recommended by the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, with hopes of more money being bet on races at the Bossier City track at off-track sites around the country.
Since July 1, when the Downs began racing at 3:30, handle has increased significantly. The later the post time, the less the Downs competes with other tracks which run during the afternoon.
Some horsemen have expressed a desire to have lights at the Downs, which would allow for night racing, like what takes place at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas. Last week, the Journal reported that adding lights will be discussed by the Louisiana State Racing Commission.
More good news for Louisiana Downs: despite concerns from horsemen and state racing commissioners, a Sunday morning inspection revealed the turf track did not sustain any significant damage from temporary accommodations to facilitate the staging of the Balloon Rally on the infield of the oval on Saturday.
Louisiana Downs, site of this weekend’s Red River Balloon Rally, has addressed concerns about possible damage to the Bossier City horserace track’s turf course.
Wednesday afternoon, the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) and the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, issued the following joint statement to the Shreveport-Bossier Journal:
“We have been advised by Louisiana Downs that the track has taken appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the horses, the horsemen, and track surfaces under their control.”
Monday, the Journal reported that at an LSRC committee meeting last Sunday, several commissioners — as well as some owners and trainers — said they were worried about possible damage to the turf course, which is inside the dirt track and surrounds the infield.
The Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission (SBSC), which is the official host of the event, had planned to have approximately 20 hot air balloons on display in the track’s infield, where spectators could get a close-up view.
The SBSC is expecting thousands of people to attend this year’s event, prompting worry about vehicles associated with the balloons, and foot traffic crossing the turf course. Track superintendent Billy McKeever, Jr., said Sunday he understood the SBSC’S plan was to put pieces of plyboard across the track for vehicles and people to use.
While that plan was challenged in Sunday’s discussion, there is no word from any party how Louisiana Downs developed an option that appeased the state agencies enough so that no advance preventative action was taken.
Sara Nelms, Director of Sports for the SBSC, did not return a phone call or email from the Journal on Wednesday. The track, through its public relations agency, had already declined comment on the issue.
It was appropriate that claps of thunder were heard inside the Red River Room at Louisiana Downs last Sunday morning.
While a thunderstorm darkened skies and cried raindrops on the Bossier City racetrack, some state racing commissioners, along with various horse owners and trainers, heard gloomy financial news.
News that made something clear — if things don’t change, the day could come when the sounds of hooves go silent, and the barns sit empty.
“Right now, they’re headed in that direction,” said Mike McHalffey, a 10-year member of the commission, and chairman of the Louisiana State Racing Commission committee which sets the dates for thoroughbred and quarter horse meets at all four state tracks.
“I hope that never happens,” McHalffey said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make it as good as it can be. But in the long run, it has to be the owners and the management here doing the right things, promoting the business, and doing the finances like they’re supposed to be by law. By law, if they don’t conduct business like they’re supposed to, we can pull their license. If we pull their license, the gaming control board will be notified, and the casino license will be pulled at the same time. That’s huge, and nobody wants that to happen.”
When McHalffey speaks of “doing the finances like they’re supposed to by law,” he’s talking about overspending. McHalffey calls it Kindergarten Math. You can’t pay out more purse money than what you take in to pay the purses. It was made clear in Sunday’s meeting that money management — the simple ability to stay within budget — is a problem at the Downs. McHalffey said the track had budgeted $130,000 a day for purses during the current thoroughbred meet. He says through the first two months of the meet and the early part of July, the track has paid out $155,000 per day.
“They’ve overspent their purse allotment by $1.2 million halfway into the meet,” McHalffey said.
Louisiana Downs — through its public relations agency — declined comment for this story.
“I am,” said horse owner Kenneth Weaver, when asked by the Journal if he was frustrated. “There are some expenditures that should have been monitored a little bit more closely.”
Changes which the commission mandated effective July 1— a later post time and one less race per day –have increased the track’s handle (money bet at Louisiana Downs and off-site), thus mitigating the amount of overpaid purse money. Ed Fenasci, Executive Director of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), said that before the changes, the Downs’ handle was down 14.1 percent. Since then, the handle is up 66 percent. However, the presumption is that the track will have to cut back on purse money later this season.
“As an owner, my horse will be running for less money,” Weaver said. “If we had stayed within the budgeted amount early, it would have been consistent all the way through. Now, there’s the possibility I will be running for less money.”
As the Downs’ leading trainer — he’s competing for his second straight trainer’s title — Shane Wilson’s words carry weight. His words about the future of the track are not for the faint of heart.
“It’s a big concern,” Wilson said. “For a lot of us, this is where we want to be. We could be at other tracks — anywhere we want to go — but we want to be here. For us to see how the falloff is, the purses, and hear the numbers they’re crunching, it doesn’t sound good. It sounds like there’s going to have to be a shorter meet in order to have the money to keep the purses where anybody can even think about being here.”
When to race and for how long
Depending on the week, the Downs currently runs three to four days, from early May to mid-September. Different people have different thoughts on how many racing days a week are best, as well as the length of the thoroughbred meet. State law was recently revised and allows for no less than 76 thoroughbred race days at any track. However, should a track and the HBPA agree, and there is documentation that a track can’t financially run 76 days, the commission can reduce the number of race days by as many as 21 days.
“I would like to maintain the 76 racing days that by statute is given to us,” Weaver said. “Personally, I would rather run for less money, knowing I’m going to run consistently here at my home track. I want to support my home track, and I would like for them to handle the money appropriately to maintain those 76 racing days for me horse to run during the whole meet.”
The commission is working future schedules to make sure one track’s meet doesn’t overlap with another track’s meet. However, Wilson, who said he’s fine with running three days a week, doesn’t like that plan.
“The idea that they want to have all the tracks off of each other, it doesn’t work,” Wilson said. “You’re stabled in one place, and that makes for a shipping expense every time you run a horse at a different track. You’re going to run owners out of business. If it’s costing them more money to go run than what they’re going to make, they’re not going to go. If you had to race three days a week and that would stretch the meet out, I think people would be better off with three days a week instead of four if you get to stay in one spot.”
But one commissioner sees it differently.
“It makes no sense for different tracks to run on top of each other, because you only have so many horses in the state,” said Deano Thornton, a racing commissioner from Winnfield. “Whatever it takes to make the horsemen better financially better, as well as the tracks, it’s our job as commissioners to try to bring those folks together and decide what’s best for the industry. Hopefully they agree, and it makes our job easier. When they don’t agree, then we have to mandate, and that’s a last resort.”
It’s all about the money
A reduction in Louisiana Downs thoroughbred purse money generated by slot revenue (which is where a majority of the track’s purse money comes from) is nothing new.
Fenasci said the amount of slot-allocated purse money is down 47 percent since 2012. That year, there was $7,205,039 available. This year, that number is projected to be just under $3.8 million.
Louisiana Downs’ handle is down year-over-year. According to the LAHBPA, in 2022, that number in May and June was just over $15 million. In 2023, based on the same number of race days, the amount bet has been a little more than $12.9 million — a decrease of $2.1 million (14 percent).
“No business model sustains itself looking at these numbers,” Thornton said. “Numbers don’t lie. You may view them differently, but numbers are numbers.”
Let there be light!
While the light is shining on the Downs’ financial issues, lights may be an answer to those issues. Evangeline Downs, in Opelousas, is enjoying what a track official described as a very successful thoroughbred meet. One reason is nighttime racing.
“There’s less competition out there,” said Tracey Coonce, Evangeline’s simulcast manager.
“Your bigger tracks, your ‘A’ tracks which are like the New York Racing Association (tracks), Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita — the California tracks, the Florida tracks — those are the tracks people tend to wager on. At nighttime, there really aren’t big tracks out there running. We kind of consider ourselves the big track of the night.”
Louisiana Downs owners could be proactive and install lights. Or the commission could do a little arm-twisting.
“The legislative session the time before this one, we passed an infrastructure bill which says we can mandate improvements to get everybody on the same level, basically,” McHalffey said. “We had lights on the infrastructure bill for Louisiana Downs in the beginning. We looked at the numbers, and we couldn’t justify making them spend a million dollars to put lights up at this point. So, we took it off, with the stipulation that we can add anything back on at any time with a meeting of the infrastructure committee and approval by the whole commission. It will be discussed.”
McHalffey added that he could see night racing at the Downs within the next two years.
How successful a meet is Evangeline Downs having?
“For the month of June 2022, total handle was $14 million,” Coonce said. “This year, it was $24 million, and we had four less race days.”
And talk about loving to bet on the races…
“I have one person who in the month of May, he bet $12 million dollars on our product,” Coonce said. “One person.”
The pressure is on
If the darkest of days does come and Louisiana Downs loses its license to race, it will also — by law — lose its casino license. Wilson said because of that possibility, the pressure is on Downs’ management to turn things around.
Louisiana Downs Director of Racing Matt Crawford told committee members Sunday that an additional 20 slot machines would be in place in 2-3 weeks.
“They can’t run their slot machines without the horse racing,” Wilson said. “So, they’re going to have to do something, whether it’s having more slot machines — they’re talking about how they have less than everybody else. So, either they’re going to have to have more slot machines or new slot machines, or have live entertainment,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to do something to bring people in here, because it’s not looking good right now.”
A hole may have been punctured in plans to have approximately 25 hot air balloons — and a crowd of spectators — in the infield at Louisiana Downs for this weekend’s Red River Balloon Rally.
But officials at the track and the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission are considering adjustments that could be a patchwork solution.
While the event will take place Friday and Saturday (5-10 p.m.) as scheduled, some members of the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) — along with some local horsemen — expressed concern there will be damage to the turf course, which is on the inside of the dirt track and circles the infield.
Monday afternoon, the SBSC’s Director of Sports, Sara Nelms, told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal, “The balloons are still going to be in the infield.
“We’re working with Louisiana Downs right now on their concerns,” Nelms said. “But as of now, that’s the plan.”
It’s a plan with which at least one racing commissioner disagreed Sunday morning, when the issue flared up during extensive discussion of Louisiana Downs that took more than two hours during an LRSC committee meeting held at the track.
“It’s not a good look,” LSRC member Deano Thornton of Winnfield told the Journal. “It makes it seem like (Louisiana Downs) turned their back on the horsemen and the track. This facility is a horse track first, before it’s a gambling facility, before it’s any kind of balloon facility, or anything else. We need to protect the racing industry first, then do the other things.”
Louisiana Downs officials did not respond to a Monday morning interview request from the Journal, which — as the track requires — was made through its public relations agency.
Nelms said the balloon rally, which in past years has drawn thousands of people, including many children, has been planned for nine months. In addition to the balloons, there will be music and food. However, LSRC member Mike McHalffey of Bossier City told the Journal while he was aware the event was going to be at the Downs, there had not been any communication to the commission that balloons would be in the infield.
“If we lose turf racing because of balloon fest, we’re going to have problems.” McHalffey told Louisiana Downs representatives during Sunday’s meeting.
A major reason the rally was moved to the Downs from Brookshire Grocery Arena’s asphalt parking lot —where Nelms said temperatures last year reached 130 degrees — was to allow people to take a break from the heat. The track’s air-conditioned grandstand, as well as restaurants, will be open.
Commissioners said they have seen what can happen when events are held on a track’s infield, like when the New Orleans Jazz Fest is held each spring at the Fair Grounds Race Course.
“Our experience dealing with (Fair Grounds owner) Churchill (Downs Incorporated) and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, what they do for the Jazz Fest, tears that facility up,” Thornton said. “All it takes is one spot in that grass that is not usable, and you’ve lost your turf season. I just think a better solution would have been to have it at this facility — somewhere besides in the infield. We need to protect the surface for the horses.”
Shane Wilson, Louisiana Downs’ leading trainer, is also worried about what will happen if the turf course is damaged.
“If they do damage to the turf course, it changes our entire meet,” Wilson said. “We run three to four turf races a day. I didn’t understand why you couldn’t have it in the empty parking lot out here. I guess this is what management’s chosen, so we will see how it goes.”
According to longtime track superintendent Billy McKeever, Jr., balloon rally officials plan on putting down pieces of plywood, which would allow vehicles, and people, to cross a portion of the turf course. However, he expressed concern to commissioners.
“I can’t tell you how it’s going to look,” McKeever said. “I’ve never done it.”
One commissioner asked, “Why wouldn’t they do this in that parking lot where the trucks can’t park anymore?”
McKeever replied, “They said the asphalt tears up the baskets.” McKeever added, “We didn’t plan any of this.”
The Journal has learned a compromise being considered is to move the balloons from the infield to the dirt track.
“We just wouldn’t be able to have as many balloons,” Nelms said, “but it’s not a big deal.”
A move to the dirt would cause some issues regarding placement of the tethered balloons, which, for $20 per person, will provide a ride 20-30 feet in the air.
“We would have to make some adjustments to figure out where we would be able to put those, because they need 130 feet on each side all the way around them,” Nelms said. “We would have to figure out a place to put them.”
In order to host the rally, Louisiana Downs will not have live racing Saturday. It is hoped by everyone the turf course is usable after Saturday.
“We obviously want the track to be successful, and we don’t want anything we’re doing to put a wrench in their racing season,” said Nelms. “We definitely want to do the right thing.”
The odds are good that trainer Ronnie Ward will have the winner in Saturday’s $50,000 Alabama Stakes — the first stakes race at Louisiana Downs this thoroughbred season.
Those odds have nothing to do with the morning line. It’s just simple math.
Ward has five of the seven entries in the six-and-a-half-furlong dirt race for Alabama-Bred three years old and up which have not won a stakes race. Post time for the seventh race — part of an eight-race card with a 2:05 start time — is 4:53 p.m.
“I train for a lot of people in Alabama, and Alabama is really pushing their program again,” Ward told the Shreveport-Bossier Journal. “A lot of trainers in Louisiana have not started training for those different people. There are going to be six to eight races a year in Louisiana. The (Louisiana State Racing Commission) has stepped up and really contributed a lot of money to this program.”
One of Ward’s horses, Uncle Brad, is the 9/5 morning line favorite, despite having only finished in the money once (a win) in 10 career starts. The second choice at 3/1 is Unaffiliated, trained by Denise Schmidt — the only trainer other than Ward who has a horse (she has two) in Saturday’s race. Unaffiliated has a second-place finish in three starts.
“The one Denise has got, the number seven horse, and Uncle Brad,” Ward said of which horses he thinks stand out. “Her horse has run second, mine has won, and has had more races. They should be tops in the field. But it’s horse racing, and you’ve got some (horses) that haven’t started before which are pretty good horses, so we shall see.”
Alexander Castillo, who is sixth in the Downs’ jockey standings (nine wins in 111 starts), will ride Uncle Brad. Gerald Melancon, who is in 11th place (five wins in 25 starts), will be aboard Unaffiliated.
Interestingly, two of the top four jockeys in the current meet will ride the two longest shots in the field. Joel Dominguez (second) will be aboard Strike a Bargain at 12/1. Angel Suarez (fourth) will pilot Heza Royal Cat at 15/1.
Alabama does not have live horse racing, therefore, owners of Alabama-Breds have to go out-of-state to race. Ward said the LSRC has stepped up to offer those horses a place to run.
“One of my owners, Kent Gremmels, went before the commission last year,” Ward said. “They committed they would give X number of races at each track, if the track wanted to have a race. Evangeline Downs has already had one. We’re going to have two here at Louisiana Downs. They’re going to have two at the Fairgrounds in the fall, and they’re going to try to have one at Delta Downs.”
And thanks to a recent rule change, Ward — and any trainer — can run as many Alabama-Breds in a race as they want.
“They’re getting better,” Ward said of Alabama-Breds. “(Alabama) is getting back into the breeding program. It had gotten down to nothing. But now, they’re coming back. There’s some people breeding in the program that sees Louisiana is going to have races for them. If Louisiana has seven or eight stakes races a year just for Alabama-Breds, it’s going to be worth it for an owner to get in and have an Alabama-Bred.”
The third-best morning line odds in Saturday’s race belong to Chamois’ Empire — also trained by Ward — at 4/1. Chamois’ Empire ran third in his only start.
The Alabama Thoroughbred Breeders Racing Association will have representatives at the track and they will present the trophy to the winning owner and trainer, Louisiana Downsen officials said.
As expected, the City of Shreveport has chosen the Chicago-based firm Baker Tilly to conduct a feasibility study regarding REV Entertainment’s multi-purpose stadium and entertainment project, proposed for the Louisiana State Fair Grounds.
The decision was announced Thursday by city officials. The city expects Baker Tilly’s work to take approximately nine months to complete after the contract is formally awarded.
Tuesday, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal was the first to report that a choice would be announced by the end of this week, and the choice would likely be Baker Tilly, which has locations in 20 states and does business globally.
The results of Baker Tilly’s study will likely play a significant role in the city deciding if it will move forward with REV’s project.
Shreveport Chief Administrative Officer Tom Dark told the Journal he expects a contract to be signed next month. The cost for Baker Tilly’s services is anticipated to be approximately $150,000.
Four companies submitted Requests For Proposals to provide their consulting services. The selection committee, which met Tuesday, included Mayor Tom Arceneaux, Dark, Director of Finance Sherricka Fields Jones, and Shreveport Parks and Public Assembly director Shelly Ragle.
The Shreveport-Bossier Journal has learned that the City of Shreveport is planning to — by the end of the week — announce which consulting firm has been chosen to review REV Entertainment’s proposal to build a multi-use stadium and mixed-use development at the State Fair Grounds.
Barring a surprise choice, it is expected that Baker Tilly, with locations in 20 states, will be awarded the bid.
Tuesday, a source involved with Shreveport city government told the Journal they would “be shocked” if Baker Tilly wasn’t the choice of a four-person evaluation committee. In late March, Mayor Tom Arceneaux said he planned on hiring Baker Tilly. However, it was decided that first, Requests for Proposals had to be issued. REV Entertainment recommended Baker Tilly, which was one of four companies to submit RFP’s by the May 17 deadline.
According to the RFP’s, the city’s estimate for building a 4,000-seat stadium—and other items associated with Phase 1/Part 1 of the project, is $105 million. REV Entertainment is owned by Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, but there is no expectation that an MLB-affiliated minor league franchise would be a stadium tenant.
The REV Entertainment proposal, presented in March, includes an entertainment district, mixed-use facility and a 300-room hotel that could also be beneficial to nearby Willis-Knighton North Hospital.
A 4,000-seat baseball stadium on Shreveport’s State Fair Grounds — the cornerstone of a now-estimated $105 million Phase 1/Part I project next to Independence Stadium along Interstate 20 — is one step closer to reality.
Four consulting firms met a 3 p.m. Tuesday deadline, in response to the City of Shreveport’s Request for Proposal. The selected firm will review research, plans and financials, submitted by REV Entertainment, an Arlington, Texas-based events company that began discussions last fall with city officials in former Mayor Adrian Perkins’ administration. Newly-elected Mayor Tom Arceneaux has continued assessment of the concept, and it seems to be gaining some traction.
REV has proposed a three-phased entertainment center featuring a stadium to be the home of a (likely independent) minor-league baseball team, and a mixed-use development, including restaurants.
The RFP said this part of Phase I “would be funded by the City, along or in concert with other partners who may be identified.”
A second part of Phase I would include an approximately 300-room hotel. That, according to the RFP, would be privately funded. “REV has committed to seek partners to fund or privately fund” the hotel development, according to the RFP.
The four companies expressing interest in providing their consulting services are Fast Forward Consulting, Baker-Tilly, Samuel A. Ramirez and Company, and Brailsford and Dunlavey.
According to its website, Fast Forward Consulting is based in Haughton and owned by Adrienne Adams, who has a degree in business management from LSU and is pursuing a master’s in human resources.
REV Entertainment President Sean Decker said his company recommended Baker-Tilly. According to Baker-Tilly’s website, the company is “a top 10 advisory tax and assurance firm dedicated to customized business solutions that generate and sustain growth.” Baker-Tilly has locations in 20 states.
On its LinkedIn page, Samuel A. Ramirez and Company is described as a nationwide (New York-based), full-service investment bank, brokerage and advisory firm.
Brailsford and Dunlavey’s website says the company’s “purpose is to inspire and empower organizations to maximize the value of investments that advance them toward the targeted new reality.” It has seven locations in three states and the District of Columbia.
“We recommended the City (hire a consulting firm),” Decker said. “It’s always preferred in our method for the community and the city, town — wherever we work — for them to do their own feasibility study. Don’t just take our word for it. Make sure an independent party backs up that the market can support this, and all the research we’ve done is right. We think it’s absolutely a critical part of the due diligence.”
In late March, Arceneaux said the city “was hiring Baker-Tilley to help us evaluate and look over REV’s numbers to make sure we’re comfortable with their numbers, and then also to see how we would go about using financing other than general obligation bonds to come up with our initial investment.” However, the mayor later learned that before hiring Baker-Tilly, a Request for Proposal had to be issued, allowing other companies to bid on providing consulting services.
The completed RFP’s will now go to an evaluation committee. Tom Dark, Shreveport’s Chief Administrative Officer, told the Journal that the committee will likely consist of Dark, Shreveport Parks and Public Assembly Director Shelly Ragle, Chief Financial Officer Sherricka Fields Jones, and “probably someone from the City Attorney’s office.” Dark said he is still working to learn if the company chosen must be approved by the city council.
The RFP gave specifics regarding the stadium. The RFP said Phase 1 of the project includes a 4,000-seat stadium, with a capacity of 6,000 for “other events.” The project also calls for “reconstruction and amenities for the main interior roadway (Pershing Drive), the relocation or removal of a cell tower on the premises, a mixed-use building adjacent to the outfield that is intended to be a year-round venue, parking areas for players and deliveries, an open plaza wrapping around the site to make it a community space, and reconstruction of and reconfiguration of the existing parking area.”
The RFP also said Phase I will be “funded by the City, alone or in concert with other partners…”.
Decker said the RFP process “definitely slowed things down a little bit.” However, that doesn’t mean work hasn’t been done.
“Frankly, a lot of the less-sexy stuff, if you will,” Decker said. “A lot of looking at the underground — water, electrical, plumbing. We’re admittedly coming up to the point where we will be in a holding pattern until the feasibility study is complete, and we press ‘go.’ We’re trying to do everything we can to ensure that if the process and the project is approved to proceed, we’re ready to go right away.”
If the project does not move forward, there is a possibility REV Entertainment would explore bringing its plan to Bossier City. Bossier spokesperson Louis Johnson confirmed to the Journal that at one point, there was a meeting between REV and Bossier officials, where the possibility was discussed. However, there wasn’t a second meeting.
However, Decker made it clear to the Journal that Shreveport was —and remains — REV’s first choice for the development.
“More of the conversations with Bossier were about this team becoming a community asset — a regional asset — that will serve obviously more than just Shreveport, and we want to be great neighbors and partners in all of that. Any conversation with Bossier that would have talked about this team ever coming to Bossier, would have been more along the lines of, ‘Hey, if things don’t work out in Shreveport, we may be willing to have a conversation or to look at it.’”
Added Decker: “By the way, we were transparent with the City of Shreveport in that process, and looked at all options.”
Shreveport councilwoman Ursula Bowman, who represents the district where the development would be built, did not immediately return the Journal’s voicemail and email seeking comment.
Saturday afternoon, Patrick Fertitta set up his Apple TV at the Petroleum Club. The ordained minister and restaurateur had invited about 30 friends and family to party and watch the 149th Kentucky Derby. Fertitta owns shares in Mage, a Kentucky-bred Chestnut Colt which went off at odds of 15-1.
The field of 18 horses broke from the Churchill Downs gate in Louisville, Kentucky, at straight up 6 p.m. central time. But on Fertitta’s TV, the race didn’t start until closer to 6:30.
“When I was setting it up, I made a mistake,” Fertitta said Sunday afternoon. “I ended up pausing the unit. There was about a 30-minue delay. I didn’t realize it. We were watching everything, and one of my friends said, ‘This thing’s running late!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on.’ Then about 15 or 20 minutes before the race actually went off for us,I started getting congratulatory texts, and my mind is thinking what in the world is going on here?”
What was “going on” is that Mage — ridden by 45-year-old Venezuelan Javier Castellano — spent the first half of the mile-and-a-quarter race in the back of the pack. But as he approached the far turn, Mage began a strong run on the outside, surged to the lead with a furlong to go, and held off Two Phil’s by a length, for the winner’s share of $1.86 million.
“My friend called me over. He had gotten a message on his phone from a news service that said Mage won the Kentucky Derby. He said, ‘Patrick, look at this!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m getting a lot of congratulatory texts. I’m guessing he won!’ I said, ‘Don’t say anything to anyone else because they don’t know.’”
Having advance notice did wonders for Fertitta’s health.
“That saved me from probably having a heart attack during that race. At least knowing the outcome — I didn’t know how it happened — so I still got the excitement of seeing how it happened. Knowing he won kept me from falling out on the floor.”
It also kept Fertitta from falling asleep until 4 o’clock Sunday morning.
“I think my phone was buzzing until midnight. But I just laid in bed staring at the ceiling, with my mind just reeling. (I got) messages from people literally all over the world — England, Italy, Indonesia — from friends that I have who live in all parts of the world. It’s been totally surreal.”
Fertitta got into horse ownership a little more than a year ago, when he bought shares in Country Grammer — which is now fifth on the all-time thoroughbred earnings list ($14.8 million). Seeing Grammer’s success and Fertitta’s excitement stoked the interest of Fertitta’s family. So, Fertitta formed a partnership called Omerta Thoroughbreds, which includes Fertitta, his mother (Agatha), aunt (Allie), uncle (Joe), and a friend. The cost of ownership in a horse is $50 per share. Fertitta won’t say how many shares Omerta owns, though the partnership has a stake in seven horses.
For Fertitta, owning a piece of a horse — however small — means a lot more than simply betting on a horse. And that meaning has nothing to do with money.
“When Mage crossed the finish line yesterday, it wasn’t being able to say my bet won. It was being able to say my horse won. That’s something you cannot put a price on. Whether I had one share, or 1,000 shares, or 100,000 shares, that is something you cannot put a value or a price tag on.”
Saturday’s Derby win was a dream come true — not only for the 42-year old Fertitta who has been a racing fan since he was 15 — but for his 73-year-old mother.
“My mom, she’s been watching the Derby for, gosh, since she was a kid, too. I asked her yesterday, ‘Mom, did you ever think you would own a Kentucky Derby winner?’ She said, ‘Nope. This is phenomenal!’”
Another result of Fertitta’s horse winning the Run for the Roses? The first line of his obituary is already written.
“Maybe one day when they (write it), they will say he was part owner of a Kentucky Derby horse. That’s going to go with me for the rest of my life.”
Last October, it was characterized by many as a two-out, bottom of the ninth inning effort by then-incumbent mayor Adrian Perkins to gain support (votes) just weeks before Shreveport’s general election.
However, almost five months later, the game is still being played — with a new mayor in the batter’s box.
Tom Arceneaux, who took office Dec. 31, has since met twice with REV Entertainment, the Arlington, Texas-based company which pitched to Perkins the idea of building a baseball stadium and accompanying entertainment district on the site of the Louisiana State Fairgrounds.
Those meetings have led Arceneaux to look for ways to keep the idea alive — ways to help finance the project, and the stadium in particular.
“I did not want to say, ‘Oh, gee, this is simply too big for Shreveport. This is not something we can do,” Arceneaux told the Journal. “We’ve had some of that in the past, and I don’t want to have that reputation.”
Arceneaux said that while REV would have some capital investment in the project should it come to fruition — and would manage the stadium — the city would be responsible for building the stadium. The mayor said that would require “a fairly sophisticated approach to financing.”
“I think we built Fair Grounds Field (the former home of the Shreveport Captains minor league baseball team which opened in 1986) for somewhere in the five or six million dollars range,” Arceneaux said. “We’re talking here about tens of millions of dollars. It is a very big project, with a very big upfront ask from the City of Shreveport. We do not want to say we can’t do it, but at the same time, we don’t want to go jumping off a cliff, either.”
A message left by the Journal for an REV spokesperson was not returned.
The city and REV are not far enough along in their discussions to know if REV will guarantee a tenant for the stadium.
“The likelihood is, it will be an independent team, rather than a minor league team,” the mayor said.
When interest was first announced between the city and REV, some questioned the proposed project’s location. However, Arceneaux doesn’t have any questions about the location.
“We control all the real estate we would need to do it. Plus, I think that’s a great location. It’s a marquee location. It would transform the appearance of the fairgrounds, and obviously the fact it is right there on I-20 is significant. There is enough acreage. They want to make use of other facilities that are already there — Independence Stadium, the Hirsch (Coliseum). It really makes sense for it to be there if we’re going to do it.”
Meanwhile, Fair Grounds Field remains partially demolished. Arceneaux’s administration canceled the city’s contract with Henderson Construction Services, rather than continue to pay delay damages. Demolition was stopped last year, after a group trying to save FGF won a court injunction.
Shelly Ragle, Director of Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR), told the Journal the city paid Henderson Construction Services $338,000 for the partial demolition, as well as delay damages.
“We need to make a decision fairly quickly about (Fair Grounds Field),” Arceneaux said. “If we decide to go with REV Entertainment, they would not be renovating the stadium. It would be a stadium built from the ground up.”
The mayor said he expects to know more on finance options for building a new stadium this month. However, he said it will be a while before a decision is made on whether to go forward with the REV project.
They watched their grandfather become weaker by the day. They watched him lose his ability to speak. They watched him die from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as ALS.
Two years later, they have watched their grandmother struggle to survive ovarian cancer surgery. They have watched her hair fall out — sometimes in strands, sometimes in clumps. They shaved her head.
And through all of this, Emma and Andrew Bradford have excelled not only at Captain Shreve High School, but at the sport they’ve played — and loved — most of their lives.
“They all grew up with soccer balls at their feet,” Emma and Andrew’s mom, Kathlyn, said.
In 2018, Kathlyn’s father, Roger McPhearson, was diagnosed with ALS. Kathlyn bought a house and everyone, including oldest son William, moved in.
“We knew we wanted to keep him at home and take care of him,” said Kathlyn, who is a nurse.
Roger died in 2020. Then, last year, Emma and Andrew’s grandmother, Dianne, was diagnosed with cancer.
Despite the long, sad, emotionally draining days and nights, Emma and Andrew not only survived. They thrived, with an assist from an inflatable ball.
“Soccer is their ‘out’,” Kathlyn said. “It’s their therapy, basically. I feel like they’re able to express their stress. It gives them something to look forward to.”
Emma’s senior season at Captain Shreve continues today in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. Along the way, the 17-year-old has kicked, passed, and defended her way to a long list of individual honors.
“My mom kept pushing me to be the best,” Emma said of succeeding, while dealing with her grandparents’ illnesses. “She didn’t want me to fall off because of everything that was happening. She kept pushing me in the right direction, and always made sure I was doing what was best for me.”
Andrew’s junior season with the Gators ended last week in the second round of the playoffs. After being named team and district Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, and making first-team all-district as a sophomore, injuries kept the 16-year-old from playing his best this winter.
“It really affected me a lot, because I had never had an injury like that,” Bradford said of the torn meniscus in his left knee, which happened during a scrimmage last June. “The recovery time — I couldn’t do things I wasn’t supposed to do, so I could get back in time (for the season). If I did one little thing, it could keep me out even longer.”
Andrew was cleared to play just before the 2022-23 season, but later hurt his ankle and missed a month of action.
And then there was dealing with the inner emotion of what was going on at home.
“I really tried not to show it,” Andrew said. “Nobody knows about it. It was kind of hard playing soccer, but I tried to do my best.”
Grandma used to go to most all her grandkids’ games. Now, not so much. But thanks to technology, that doesn’t mean she misses seeing them play.
“Our games are live-streamed, so she can watch them at home,” Andrew said.
And when Andrew and Emma hit the door, they take part in a post-game interview — with Grandma as the audience.
“It’s always fun to tell her the stories about what happened,” Emma said.
“She tells me all about the game,” Andrew said. “She’s like, ‘Man, those players are rough!’”
Emma has physical challenges of her own. There’s Celiac Disease, along with several auto-immune diseases.
“Those things have stunted her growth,” Kathlyn said. “She’s only 4-11. She thinks it is a disadvantage to her, but it has always been an advantage to her. She has more control over her body than most girls do, and she can whip around those tall girls and maneuver the ball and have more ball control than someone who is bigger than her.”
If Emma and Andrew have learned anything from seeing their grandparents’ sickness up close, it’s that time is precious.
“My mom always tells us it doesn’t matter how much time they have left,” said Andrew. “Just keep on loving them.”
Through soccer, Emma and Andrew have shown — and continue to show — their love.
To start the new year, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal is publishing a series of stories this week on Shreveport’s new mayor, Tom Arceneaux. In today’s finale’, Tony Taglavore writes about his conversation with the mayor.
One hour, six minutes, 55 seconds.
That’s how much time Tom Arceneaux gave me a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve had people refuse to give me the time of day, much less an hour. And they were doing much less than preparing to become mayor of Shreveport.
“I will try to be as efficient with your time as possible,” I said, at the start of our conversation.
“I have plenty of time, Tony. Don’t worry.”
Remember, this was after the election — just more than a week before Arceneaux took office. There weren’t any votes to be won. And he certainly didn’t have plenty of time. Since surprising many by defeating an African-American democrat and state senator on December 10th, the 71-year-old had spent pretty much every waking hour wrapping his brain around the city government of which he is now in charge.
But Arceneaux saw value in you — the reader — getting to know a little about him personally, and where he stands politically on some issues. But before he was sworn into office, Arceneaux thought it important to — at my request — let you know about him and his plans for the city. He answered every question thoughtfully, without hesitation, and void of mayor-speak.
I appreciate that.
Before our talk, I didn’t know Tom Arceneaux. I have met him on a handful of occasions, mostly back in the day when I was in television. He was always complimentary of my work. But after listening to Arceneaux and learning about who he is not so much as a politician, but as a human being, I feel like I know him.
And I like him.
Without being overbearing, Arceneaux let me know he is a religious person.
“Faith is a big part of my life because my Savior, Jesus Christ, saved and redeemed me,” he said. “He took me out of the miry clay and put my feet on the Rock.”
I like that. We need more religious people in elected office. You know, someone who believes in looking up to his or her most important constituent.
I also like that the mayor gets out a lot. Don’t be surprised if you see him at dinner, or the symphony, as I did a few weeks ago. You know, a mayor of the people. But one place you won’t see him is at Tinseltown.
“You get me in a cool, dark place and I’m going to fall asleep,” said Arceneaux. “It’s cheaper for me to fall asleep at home.”
That tells me he is going to be fiscally responsible with our money.
I like that.
By the way, the mayor and his wife of 29 ½ years, Elizabeth, do watch movies — on Netflix.
“We have different tastes,” he said. “I’m a TV movie Rom-Com (Romantic Comedy) guy, and she’s an action-suspense movie fan. We’re kind of cross-gender.”
If the mayor can navigate those differences for almost 30 years, surely he can change the direction of a city that seems to be headed in what many consider the wrong direction.
Or can he?
I am of the opinion he can’t. I am also of the opinion no one person can. Not even the mayor.
However, we — the people who make up the city — do have that power. We can start with the easy stuff.
Stop throwing your Whataburger wrapper out the window. Offer a smile or an act of kindness to a stranger. You own a piece of land? Cut the (blanking) grass.
To paraphrase the late, great comedian Rodney Dangerfield, when you don’t have self-respect, you have no respect at all.
Then, we can move on to the hard suff. Like settling a disagreement with conversation instead of gunfire. Like raising your children in a loving environment. Remember, today’s young ones are tomorrow’s future.
Election night, my fiancée and I were at an event attended by many smart, successful people (we were given free tickets.) I checked my phone and saw that Arceneaux was going to be Shreveport’s mayor. I passed along the news to someone at our table. That person’s response?
“Thank God. Maybe now we can go outside of our house without fear of getting shot.”
I hated to break it to that lady — and I didn’t — but Tom Arceneaux isn’t going to prevent you from being shot. No one is going to do that.
I asked Arceneaux what he would say to her—and others—who believe the mayor will be the savior of the city.
“There’s one savior, and his name is Jesus — not Tom.”