Louisiana horse tracks seek schedule solutions

NEW ORLEANS — When the Louisiana Racing Commission met for its regular meeting Monday at the Hotel Monteleone, another gathering took place in a room across the hall just before the board called its meeting to order at 9 a.m.

The earlier meeting was an informal, Louisiana race-track summit attended by representatives from the state’s four horse racing facilities — Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Delta Downs in Vinton, Evangeline Downs in Opelousas and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City.

The goal of the gathering was simple: work out a way to ensure that as little overlap as possible exists among the tracks’ schedules. The hope, some of those representatives said later this week, is to maximize attendance — and therefore revenues — at each course.

Although the meeting is an annual one, the tracks still haven’t arrived at a firm solution.

“This conversation happens yearly,” said Eric Halstrom, Fair Grounds’ vice president and general manager of racing. “The hard part of it is that the tracks are so spread out. Getting all of us together in one room is difficult. Nobody really knows the best solution. Is it even possible to not overlap (meet schedules)?”

Despite such difficulties, representatives from the facilities cling to optimism. Carrie Tedore, director of communication for Iowa-based Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs, said the courses won’t give up.

“Boyd Gaming has a long history of partnership with the Louisiana Racing Commission and horsemen,” Tedore said. “If adjusting schedules provides opportunity to make it easier for horsemen, we are open to that conversation. We’ll work toward any opportunity that is good for the horsemen, the casinos, bettors and communities where we operate.”

The Fair Grounds’ 2012-13 meet began Nov. 22 and runs through March 31; that includes the 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30. The Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

That schedule overlaps with most of Delta Downs’ 2012-13 meet, which runs Oct. 19 to March 23, including the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes. Delta’s quarter-horse meet runs from April 26 to July 13.

Evangeline Downs concluded its 2012 racing calendar in December. The 2013 schedule runs April 17 to Sept. 7 and Oct. 2 to Dec. 19.

Louisiana Downs’ calendar consists of a meet Jan. 12 to March 27 and another from May 3 to Sept. 22. Louisiana Downs is owned by Harrah’s.

Whether the tracks can achieve their goal of minimizing scheduling conflicts remains to be seen, but Halstrom said they definitely won’t stop trying.

“The tracks are trying to do the best they can,” he said. “Everybody has their own interests in mind, but everybody wants to improve Louisiana racing as a whole. It’s a good conversation to have.”