Ready, for a start

Ready, for a start

Known as the “fastest athletes on dirt,” thoroughbred horses will return to race at nearby Delta Downs Racetrack & Hotel on Friday, Oct. 16. The 2015-16 season runs through March 12, 2016, and features 86 racing dates with 32 stakes races whose purses total more than $4.6 million.

Racing days are Wednesday-Saturday with a start time of 5:40 p.m. As always, there’s no cost for admission, fans never pay for parking, and the horse track is kid friendly.

The annual highlight of the thoroughbred horses season will come Saturday, Nov. 21, when the track hosts the 13th running of Jackpot Day featuring the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot for 2-year-old runners going 1 1/16 miles. This, the second richest race for 2-year-old horses, will once against be part of the Road to Kentucky Derby point series, one of 35 races scheduled throughout North America with the top four horses earning points toward entry into the illustrious Run for the Roses.

The inaugural Jackpot race was held in 2002 with a $500,000 purse; since then, the Jackpot has produced 12 horses that gone on to run in the Kentucky Derby, and Jackpot winner Goldencents (2012) went on to have a successful career, winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile twice.

“We are so proud of our Jackpot Day program and how much it has grown in recent years,” said Steve Kuypers, vice president and general manager of Delta Downs Racetrack Casino & Hotel. “Jackpot Day offers some the best quality racing and wagering opportunities in the sport, and our team is eagerly looking forward to this year’s event in November.”

The Jackpot has attracted top trainers such as Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Nick Zito, Doug O’Neill, Tom Amoss and Todd Pletcher, along with the industry’s top jockeys like Mike Smith, Kent Desormeaux, John Velasquez, Victor Espinoza, Calvin Borel and Garrett Gomez. The only rider to win the Jackpot twice is Gerard Melancon.

Five other stakes are held on Jackpot Day including the Grade 2, $400,000 Delta Downs Princess. Post time for Jackpot Day will be 1:15 p.m.

Another big night of racing is Saturday, Feb. 6 — the annual Louisiana Premier Night — with a race card of 10 stakes races totaling over $1 million in purse money. Headlining will be the $200,000 Louisiana Premier Night Championship.

The first stakes action of the season will come with the $100,000 My Trusty Cat on Oct. 23 and $200,000 Jean Lafitte Stakes on Oct. 24. 

There will be no live racing on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) and Christmas Day (Dec. 25). Racing from Monday, Dec. 21 – Wednesday, Dec. 23, will feature a special start time of 1:15 p.m., and the regular time of 5:40 p.m. returns Saturday, Dec. 26.

Storied tradition 

Delta Downs has been a staple of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana since its inception in 1973. Original owner Lee Berwick sold the facility to Shawn Scott for $10 million. A few months after the purchase, Scott persuaded Vinton, Louisiana, residents that there was a need for slot machines; locals resoundingly approved the measure. But it was Boyd Gaming who ultimately made Delta Downs what it is today.

Headquartered in Las Vegas and owner and operator of 22 gaming entertainment properties in Nevada and many other states, Boyd Gaming purchased the property from Scott for $125 million in 2001 and rebranded by adding a hotel, several restaurants and much more.

If you haven’t been to Delta Downs in recent months, you will see plenty of bulldozers and cranes hard at work on the west end of the property. Boyd Gaming senior executives were there Sept. 23 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the $45 million expansion and enhancement of Delta Downs. Highlights of the 140,000-square-foot expansion project include the addition of 167 guest rooms and suites, a complete redesign of the property’s existing 200 rooms, expansion of the Delta Downs events center, re-imagined dining options, and a unique outdoor pool and entertainment area.

“We are creating a broader, richer entertainment experience here at Delta Downs,” said Boyd Gaming president and CEO Keith Smith. “We will be giving our current customers more options to enjoy when they visit, and we will be giving new customers more reasons to visit Delta Downs for the first time.”

Smith added that they have a strong team that runs Delta Downs, and this is a natural evolution. “We, frankly, are out of space,” Smith said. “We can’t accommodate all the guests that want to come and stay with us, so we have to expand.”

In 2012, Boyd Gaming purchased another “racino,” or horse racing track and slot facility, in Opelousas north of Lafayette, Louisiana. 

“Having a horse racing facility certainly was unique to us. It was the very first one,” said Smith. “We own two of those now. We’re able to take advantage of it and offer customers something different. They know what our product is and, more than anything, we compete based on the friendliness of our staff. We have the friendliest staff, bar none, in the state of Louisiana, and I think that is why customers come visit us.”

Although Delta Downs does not offer table games like its competitors, the horse racing track and its focus on slot games has worked in the casino’s favor, Smith said. The property at Delta hosts more than 1,600 slot machines.

“The gaming industry here is driven on visitors from Texas,” said Vinton Mayor Kennety Stinson said. “There’s a lot of people that come here, and it’s very beneficial to us. What I see is that Boyd Gaming wants to give the best experience possible so that those people will keep coming back, and they’re going to do it with this expansion.”

 

— Kevin King contributed to this article

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