(Opelousas, La.) – The 2009 thoroughbred racing season kicks off tomorrow night, April 8, at Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino. With 89 days of racing, the meet runs Wednesdays through Mondays with a post time of 6:20 p.m.
When the racetrack at Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino moved to Opelousas, Louisiana from Carencro, Louisiana, in November 2004, it opened with a one-mile dirt oval. Already underway were plans to add a turf track, the first for Acadiana. Hurricane Gustav forced last year’s debut to be cancelled, but it is ready for its opening night debut.
The turf course is named the “David A. Yount Turf “ in honor of former director of racing David A. Yount. The third race will be the first turf race run and it will also honor David A. Yount. Named David Yount Memorial, the race will have a purse of $30,000 for Accredited Louisiana-bred maidens. The one and one sixteenth mile race is for three, four and five year old horses that have not started for less than $25,000.
“We had everything lined up for us on the turf track,” said Steve Darbonne, director of racing operations. “We had the right contractor and team of people who built it.” Le Talley Ho of St. Martinville, headed by Pat Talley, handled the physical construction. Their place on the team was not new since Le Talley Ho was instrumental in the reconstruction of the dirt racetrack in 2005. Top track consultant, Dennis Moore, was retained on the project as well.
Evangeline Downs’ turf track is a 7/8 mile oval with a chute to run distances of 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 miles. It is 80 feet wide and planted with Tiff 419 Bermuda grass. Ten inches of special blended sand mixed with sport grids was used as the growing medium.
“Le Talley Ho was already experienced with our racetrack, the base and existing infrastructure,” said Darbonne. “The base for the turf track and dirt track are almost identical. When you put them with Matt Yount, our track expert, it helped put everything in our favor.”
"This is another big milestone in the construction of Evangeline Downs build-out," said Darbonne. “The turf track puts us in the a league with major racetracks and will bring more top horses to our program.”
The actual construction of the turf track was completed in 2008. The grass sod was in for three months before the first horse galloped on it on August 23, 2008. “Everything went very well with that first workout,” said Yount. “The response was good from the riders and the horses galloped well.
There are some features that are unique to Evangeline Downs’ turf track. The portable inside rail that helps set the distance for the races is designed to move in 10-foot intervals. There are electronic eyes at the different intervals that give it the capability of timing the races set at exact distances. Turf race lengths are usually mentioned as “about” lengths because the rails are not set at exact distances.
Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino was the first new facility of its kind in the United States to be built from the ground up. The land acquisition package was completed in the fall of 2002 and the first shovel of dirt was turned over in February 2003.
The Evangeline Downs project was completed in two phases. Phase one included the Casino that opened on December 19, 2003 with slot machines and several dining and entertainment venues. The Phase Two construction included a one-mile dirt track and stables for 1,000 horses. The Racetrack has grandstand and clubhouse seating for 1,450 patrons and apron and patio space for an additional 3,000 patrons.